Happy Death Day (Cinema Review)

15 – 100mins – 2017



Openly acknowledging its similarity to a charming early-90s cult classic in a meta closing exchange in which protagonist Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) claims, rather unfathomably, to never have heard of the film nor star Bill Ghostbusters Murray (as if!), Happy Death Day is unabashedly Groundhog Day given a Scream-esque slasher reimagining.

Self-centred collegiate Tree gets a major sense of déjà vu when she keeps reliving her birthday, a day in which she wakes up in a kind stranger’s (Israel Broussard) dorm room, condescends to a former fling (Caleb Spillyards), ignores her father (Jason Bayle), offends her roommate (Ruby Modine) and – to cap it all off – gets brutally murdered by a mask-wearing, knife-wielding maniac. Stuck in a tragic time loop, can Tree use her fantastical fortune to track down her killer, prevent her death and mature as a person?

Knowing the healthy critical reaction to this Blumhouse-produced Christopher B. Landon  horror-mystery, I was initially dismayed to find myself actively hating Tree’s character. Analogous to how I struggled to warm to the estranged, cold-hearted twins whose icy demeanours were thawed by the giant fire-breather in DTV sequel Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire (reviewed HERE), Happy Death Day‘s plot requirement that Tree must have a character arc necessitates her beginnings as a cruel, selfish bitch.

Fortunately, I warmed to her as she learned the error of her unpleasant ways through repetition, but WOW is she hard to tolerate for the opening 45minutes! The time loop conceit is employed to good effect, ticking all the boxes you would expect (to begin with Tree is ignorant of the daily similarities, then freaked out, before she learns to take full advantage of her gift), but then throws in a suspenseful curveball that the more Tree is killed, the weaker her body becomes.

While the infusion of some breezy comedic elements does lead to a double-bluff ending which plays the same card once too often in my opinion, the eventual revelation of Tree’s sadistic slayer is well seeded without being painfully predictable. All said, Happy Death Day is a refreshingly quirky spin on a genre which has already drained the post-modern lake dry. If only the character we have to care for tries her utmost to put us off for half the runtime!

CR@B’s Claw Score: 3 stars  

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