Happy Death Day (2017) — Groundhog Day with a murder mystery twist

“Who takes their date to Subway? Besides, it’s not like you have a footlong.”

Justin’s rating: Bundle up, campers, because it’s dead outside!

Justin’s review: At this point, I’m genuinely concerned that time loops are in danger of being over-used in movies and TV shows. What used to be sparingly used in the field of scifi is prolifering all over the place. I think there’s even a Donald Duck cartoon where his nephews repeatedly experience Christmas that my kids watch.

So really, if you’re going to do a time loop movie — where a period of time is repeated while an individual is stuck in it is the only one aware of this fact — it’s imperative to tackle it from a different angle and try to do it well. Or mash it up with a different genre… say, slashers.

That’s the whole premise of Happy Death Day: Instead of a slasher terrorizing a whole bunch of teens, it’s a single teen who is stalked and killed over and over again. If Phil Connors thought that reliving Groundhog Day was the pits, he doesn’t have anything on this setup.

Tree (Jessica Rothe) is a nasty sorority girl with an acidic tongue, a promiscuous lifestyle, and a killer headache. Toward the end of her birthday, she gets brutally stabbed by a mysterious figure in a baby mask… only to wake up at the start of the same day without any clue what’s going on or who was after her. And considering that Tree is absolutely awful, the movie hints that pretty much anyone might be out to pursue a lethal vendetta against her.

So that sets up the journey that Tree begins, as she uses each of her birthday repeats to hunt down the killer and, perhaps, start to become a bit of a better person. That’s what connected this movie to Groundhog Day for me in a much more substantial way than just the time loop. Through an unusual circumstance, Phil and Tree are forced to slow down and really examine the world around them and how their cruel and callous nature has impacted others. For Tree, this includes a recent hook-up with a nerdy guy, a secret affair with a professor, her dismissive relationship with her roommate, her catty sorority, and several others.

Of course, Tree does have it a little worse than Phil with the whole “mystery killer” thing, but at least she’s got a chance to get everything right. As long as she’s able to endure the repeated murders (as the movie indicates, her body is harboring signs of the trauma), that is.

Considering everything that I’ve just described to you, you’d assume that Happy Death Day is some sort of hard-R movie. But it’s actually a more restrained PG-13 that hints at, rather than explicitly shows, the deaths. It’s got a few slightly creepy moments, but this is more of a scifi and mystery movie than it is straight-up horror. Which is, incidentally, why I like it.

The only thing I didn’t enjoy was yelling at my tablet for Tree to stop messing around and make some sort of effort to rip off the baby mask and see who the killer is. Seriously, she goes through so many deaths before even trying this, and that oversight felt like a clunky plot hole to maintain the mystery.

Seeing a softer, more compassionate Tree emerge as she becomes a detective trying to solve her own murder is enjoyable, as is the humor that emerges from her circumstances. It’s a testament to Rothe that she’s able to make us hate her at first and the gradually love her as she taps into her nicer self. Maybe, in the end, being killed was the best thing that ever happened to her.

Didja notice?

  • There’s a time loop even on the opening logo
  • Our heroine is such an admirable person from the get-go
  • There are a lot of actual clues here if you’re really looking for them
  • OK Tree farting made me laugh a whole lot

2 comments

  1. The quote at the top of the page? Improvised by Jessica Rothe while filming the scene; everyone liked it so much they kept it.

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