Happy Death Day

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There has certainly been a deluge of time-loop stories lately, hasn't there? From quickly forgotten films like "Before I Fall," to quirky mainstream comedies like "Palm Springs," to popular television series like "Russian Doll," audiences can't seem to get enough of these types of projects. And possibly the best of the trend is 2017's delightfully twisted and wonderfully hammy horror-comedy "Happy Death Day!"

Jessica Rothe stars as "Tree," a troubled and sometimes selfish sorority girl who gets her kicks from things like ignoring others and having illicit affairs with her college professors. But things quickly change when she is murdered one night by a masked assailant... only to wake up and relive the same day over again... and then die yet again at the hands of the masked figure. With the help of a charming fellow student named Carter (Israel Broussard), Tree is able to surmise that she is stuck inside of a time-loop, destined to relive the day again and again until she can solve the mystery of her own murder and keep herself alive. And along the way, she'll also learn to confront her inner demons and maybe become a better person for it.

Directed by Christopher Landon from a script by Scott Lobdell, "Happy Death Day" works extremely well thanks to the wonderful cast, a good blend of humor and thrills that make the most out of the time-loop gimmick, and some top-notch character development. It's a resounding success all around, and is arguably one of the best horror-comedies in recent memory.

I absolutely adore the cast. Rothe, a relative newcomer, knocks it out of the park as our lead. I've only seen her once or twice in the past, but she absolutely commands the film. She gives Tree a good sense of depth, while also being very funny and entertaining. Absolutely fabulous performance. Broussard is endlessly likable as Tree's main ally in the film, and potential romantic interest Carter. He helps ground the movie, and is a lot of fun in his part. I also absolutely loved Rachel Matthews as the school's resident queen-bee mean-girl Danielle. It's a small part, but Matthews makes quite the impression. And of course there's a small turn from Ruby Modine as Tree's long-suffering roommate Lori. She's quite good in the film and has some juicy scenes to sink her teeth into.

The film's execution is also top-notch stuff. Lobdell's script skillfully mixes classic slasher-film scares with a keen sense of humor, creating a pretty ideal blend that keeps the audience at the edge of their seats while also piling on the laughs. The script also makes the most of the time-loop narrative in clever and subversive ways. There are so many fun little moments showing Tree's journey, and her just... having fun with the fact she keeps reliving the same day over and over again. And director Landon's execution of the material is pitch perfect. I've been a fan of Landon for a while now thanks to his other projects, and he's just the right fit. His sense of pacing and composition is fantastic, and he's able to execute the laughs and the thrills to perfection. In a lot of ways, he very pleasantly reminded me of early Sam Raimi in how he handles the material. And that's a very good thing.

And then there's the character development, which is really the beating heart of the film. In a lot of ways, Tree's growth is more important than the story. And it is just perfect. The film does a remarkably good job at establishing Tree as a very flawed and often unlikable person at the start... but then cleverly begins to dole out little bits of information suggesting it's not really her fault, and that she has a lot of pain beneath the surface. And the story goes on, Tree eventually begins to reevaluate her life in pretty fantastic ways. It may be a bit simplistic at times, but I really appreciate it when a movie is able to take us on a journey like this. Especially a horror film, which don't always have the best track records when it comes to character development.

If I absolutely had to point out any weaknesses to the film, I would say that the story perhaps takes a little too long to get going. The first few days in the time-loop can kinda drag a bit. A little tightening to "trim the fat" would have been appreciated. I also do think some of the twists and turns are a little... "convenient." But then again, the film is so much fun, I can forgive that for the most part.

I absolutely adore "Happy Death Day." It takes a simple premise - "What if 'Groundhog Day' was a slasher movie?" - and spins it into pure gold. It's arguably the best "time loop" story in recent memory, and it's just a blast-and-a-half to watch. I'm giving it a very good 4 out of 5. Definitely worth seeing... again and again.


Continuity mistake: When Tree looks at her iPhone it shows the time as 9:23 when the power goes out. Then when the TV is shown the time on that clock is 9:24, when she walks to the TV the time is then 9:31, and then the next view of the clock shows the time back at 9:24.

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Trivia: The plot of the movie is similar to Groundhog Day which is something that Carter mentions to Tree at the end of the movie. Tree's roommate's name is Laurie Spengler, which is a reference to Egon Spengler, played by Harold Ramis in Ghostbusters. Harold Ramis co-wrote and directed Groundhog Day.

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