Have you ever watched Groundhog Day and found yourself thinking, "this is all ace and amusing, but I wish a masked murderer was running amok?" Have you ever settled down for Edge of Tomorrow and decided that the whole thing really could use some spooky college hijinks? If your answer to either of those questions is yes, then horror-comedy Happy Death Day justmight be the film you're looking for. Here, reliving the same day comes with laughs, scares and a very determined killer.
Sorority sister Tree (Jessica Rothe) is the character caught in a loop, but becoming a better person or stopping alien invaders isn't her aim. Instead, she just wants to work out why she keeps ending up dead — and, obviously, to figure out how to avoid it. Each day plays out the same way: she wakes up in the dorm room of a classmate, Carter (Israel Broussard), who she assumes she drunkenly hooked up with, before shuddering when her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) tries to give her a birthday cupcake.Going to class, house meetings, ignoring her dad, getting ready for her own surprise party — nothing is particularly out of the ordinary. Or rather, it seems that way until she's brutally attacked, then finds herself doing it all over again.
Given Hollywood's fondness for repetition, it's surprising that a film like Happy Death Day didn't happen earlier. There are plenty of elements here that movie fans will recognise — and that's not news to director Christopher Landon (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse). This is a flick that's well aware that Groundhog Day exists, and that the slasher scenario has been done to death (note the sly references to "Monday the 18th"). It's also knows that the Scream franchise has already found the thrilling and funny side of calling out and exaggerating genre tropes.
Still, don't underestimate how far a playful tone and knowing approach can go in this situation. Producer Jason Blum is something of a horror maestro these days, backing the Paranormal Activity and Insidious franchises as well as this year's hits Split and Get Out. Keeping that successful run going, his latest takes to its satirical task with glee — think slick, montage-heavy visuals, an upbeat vibe and soundtrack, and absolutely no misapprehensions about the sort of entertaining, tongue-in-cheek movie that it wants to be.
Thanks to the great work of Rothe, Happy Death Day also boasts an impressive central performance. Focusing on an attractive young woman fending off a bad guy is hardly new territory given the picture's chosen genre, but the actress last seen in La La Land portrays her protagonist as more than just a victim in waiting. After starting in Mean Girls territory, her zest and take-charge attitude matches that of the movie. As such, audiences should have no qualms about watching her experience the same day again and again — even if the film itself doesn't necessarily warrant repeat viewings.