HAPPY DEATH DAY gets 6.5/10 Birthday bash

Directed by Christopher Landon
Starring Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachael Matthews

6.5/10

Since its release Groundhog Day (1993) has quickly wormed its way into becoming almost a genre in its own right. Multiple science fiction and fantasy TV shows have taken the idea of an individual stuck in one day repeating itself over and over as the basis for a story-line (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Xena, Stargate: SG1, even Westworld in a way). We’ve even seen it on the big screen with 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow. So it was only a matter of time before that basic story would become the bones of a horror movie. Happy Death Day does exactly that.

It’s sorority girl Tree Gelbman’s (Jessica Rothe) birthday, not that she feels like celebrating it. From waking up hungover in a stranger’s (Israel Broussard) dorm room, to dealing with her annoying sorority sisters, to problems with the various men in her life, it’s hard to imagine how the day could get any worse. At least, that is, till she is murdered by  someone in a baby-face mask and wakes up to a repeat of those events. With each death the day starts again, and it’s up to Tree to find out who is beneath that mask, so she can survive the day and break the cycle.

Happy Death Day doesn’t stray too far from either the Groundhog Day formula, or the slasher movie format, but it does that with a degree of competency and aplomb. Christopher Landon (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) is aware of the tropes of the films he is riffing on, and manages to execute them with style, and even the occasional cinematic flourish. The result is a fun little comedy horror film, that while it doesn’t break new ground, and is somewhat light on gruesome scares, actually manages to deliver exactly what it needs to.

A lot of that rests on Jessica Rothe’s shoulders. Tree shifts from obnoxious victim, to Final Girl archetype through the course of the film, and Rothe takes the audience along on that journey of self revelation and redemption. Best of all she manages to convey this with a tongue in check sense of style, that remains true to the comedy roots of the story, while also being able to handle the action scenes. Tree is not a passive victim, she’s a fighter, even if she grows increasingly cynical as the series of events repeat.

There may be a sense of déjà vu about Happy Death Day, but despite its less than original premise the latest Blumhouse offering comes across as a solid b-grade film.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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