“Happy Death Day,” the story of a woman who’s caught in an endless loop of her own death, follows in the footsteps of “Get Out” by taking familiar elements from the horror genre but delivering the scares with more wit, wisdom and wonder.
It starts with Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe), a sorority sister in desperate need of some sensitivity training, waking up in a strange college dorm room. Her meeting with the dorm’s occupant, the sweet and naive Carter Davis (Israel Broussard), is the start of a string of humiliating moments magnified by it being Tree’s birthday. Her suffering comes to an end when a man dressed in all black wearing a baby face mask attacks and kills her.
Tree wakes the next morning (that’s really the same morning) with a major sense of deja vu and, ultimately, a murderous end to her day. It only takes Tree three or four times of being killed before she realizes that until she figures out the identity of her killer, the day will continue to repeat. But each time Tree awakens, she’s a bit weaker.
The real killer here (figuratively speaking) is that the suspect list is massively long because of Tree’s lack of caring for anyone but herself.
This is where “Happy Death Day” takes a different approach to the genre. Scott Lobdell’s script features many tropes from the horror film world. It starts with the central figure of Tree, a beautiful blonde who always seems to be wearing the wrong shoes to run away from her killer. But in a twist, she ends up being both the victim and savior in this story.
“Happy Death Day” has a body count to rival most horror movies. But, because almost all the deaths are of the same person, the count could also be seen as very small. Either way, the best place where “Happy Death Day” departs from the tried-and-true horror format is having Tree be the subject of all the attacks. In a standard horror movie, the only fun is guessing in which order those trapped in an old mansion, campground, sorority house, etc. will be killed. Since that’s not in the equation, the focus goes from a morbid game of chance to a smart whodunit.
A lot of credit for “Happy Death Day” being worth seeing again and again is the performance by Rothe (“Mary + Jane”). She is believable as the snotty sorority sister, the scared and confused murder victim, and the strong woman who not only finds clues about her killer with each death but learns a lot about herself.
If all you want out of a horror film is blood and guts, “Happy Death Day” isn’t the right movie for you. Anyone looking to enjoy some scares while trying to figure out a very clever mystery should plan on seeing “Happy Death Day”… should plan on seeing “Happy Death Day”… should plan on seeing “Happy Death Day”… should plan on seeing “Happy Death Day”…
Happy Death Day
Rated: PG-13 for violence, sexual content, language, partial nudity. Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine. Director: Christopher Landon. Running time: 93 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 21, Edwards 9, Edwards 14, Edwards 12, Majestic 18, Village Cinema.