Happy Death Day (2017)
Directed by: Christopher Landon
Written by: Scott Lobdell
Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Charles Aitken, Laura Clifton
I’m going to get this out of the way up front: yes, Happy Death Day is, at its core, a riff on Bill Murray’s classic 1993 Groundhog Day. In fact, one of the characters says as much just before the credits roll.
From the publicity, you’d be forgiven if you thought this was a horror film, but it really isn’t. It’s more of a comedy/thriller, and aside from a bit of salty language, is no more violent than something you might see on prime-time television.
When Tree (Jessica Rothe) is awakened on the morning of her birthday after a drunken night partying, she finds herself in an unfamiliar dorm room. She’s greeted by a sheepish Carter (Israel Broussard), whose name she doesn’t even remember, and quickly gets dressed and heads out for the walk of shame back to her sorority house. Later that night she’s confronted by an attacker dressed all in black and wearing the baby-faced mask of her college mascot. After a short struggle, Tree is unceremoniously killed and immediately awakens once again on the morning of her birthday in the same unfamiliar (now more familiar) dorm room. Rinse and repeat.
It doesn’t take many rounds of getting killed by the baby-faced stalker before Tree realizes what’s happening and she enlists the help of Carter to figure out what’s happening to her, how to prevent being killed, and thus ending the loop.
After a few cycles of repeating her birthday/death day, Tree does some introspection and realizes she’s become a not-so-nice person since the death of her mother, and wonders if this is somehow a second chance for her to get back on the right track. She becomes a kinder person: smiling at those she to whom she had sneered and apologized to those she had wronged, but even that doesn’t break the loop, and she’s once again killed and reset to Carter’s dorm room on the morning of her birthday.
There are no big Hollywood names present in Happy Death Day to distract from the story, and the performances are on par or a little better than what you might expect from a film of this kind. There are very few cheap jump scares, and I found myself smiling and chuckling way more than wringing my hands with any nervous tension. This is a character-driven mystery with more meat on its bones than you might expect from a picture that looks from the outside as the typical Halloween season horror cash-grab.
All that being said, Happy Death Day is a fun, cross-genre 90 minutes for just about any movie-goer who can handle a bit of tension mixed with their comedy and college antics.