Happy Death Day (2017) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A slasher movie in repeat mode

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To be frank with you, I am not a big fan of slasher horror films, but I sort of enjoyed “Happy Death Day”, another small, modest horror flick from Blumhouse Productions. Although it is not as entertaining as “Get Out” (2017) or “Upgrade” (2018), the movie is at least better than many of recent slasher horror films such as the pointless remake of “Friday the 13th” (1980), and it provides us a fair share of amusing moments as cheerfully spinning its blatantly borrowed story premise along with familiar genre conventions.

As reflected by its very title, the story of the movie is about the birthday of a college girl named Teresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe), and the opening scene shows how she begins that day. When she wakes up in the morning, she finds herself in the dormitory room of a male student named Carter (Israel Broussard), and she cannot remember much about what happened between her and Carter during last night. All she remembers is that they were pretty drunk during that time, and she hurriedly gets out of his dormitory room for returning to her sorority house. When she comes into her room, her roommate Danielle (Rachel Matthews) congratulates her on her birthday along with a cupcake, but Tree simply ignores Danielle’s cupcake as she does not care much about her birthday, and she also keeps ignoring the phone call from her father.

After her afternoon time is spent on a routine meeting with her sorority members and a very brief private meeting with a married professor with whom she has had an affair, the evening soon begins, and she is going to a party to be held in a nearby fraternity house, but then we notice something quite disturbing as watching her walking alone to the fraternity house. She happens to be stalked by a mysterious figure wearing a mask based on the college sports team mascot, and, alas, it is already too late for her when she finally comes to face that masked figure, who turns out to have a murderous intent as many of you already guessed.

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However, a strange thing happens to Tree right after she is killed by that masked figure. She finds herself waking up in Carter’s room again in the same morning, and it does not take much time for her to realize that she is being stuck in a sort of time loop. Whenever she gets herself killed, she is instantly transferred back to where she was at the beginning of her birthday, and this cycle is repeated again and again no matter how much she tries to get away from her eventual fate awaiting her.

It goes without saying that this story premise is a slasher horror variation of “Groundhog Day” (1993), a hilarious classic comedy film about a man who suddenly finds himself going through the same day again and again. Like that film, “Happy Death Day” has some fun with its heroine struggling within her outrageous circumstance, and the most fun part of the movie comes from when she attempts to handle her situation with Carter, who somehow comes to believe her when she confides to him what is happening to her. He suggests that she should check potential suspects around her, and we accordingly get a funny montage scene as she checks a bunch of suspects one by one through her repeated death.

While the movie is a little too contrived during its expected climactic part, the screenplay by Scott Lobdell keeps things rolling along its plot, and director Christopher B. Landon steadily maintains the overall lightweight mood of the movie while giving us a number of nice variations of genre conventions. At one point, we see our heroine running up a stair like many female characters of slasher horror films, but she does that for an understandable purpose, and we come to cheer for her as watching her making a bold move in the end.

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And the movie works to some degrees in terms of story and character. As getting killed again and again, Tree comes to find her better self, and she becomes nicer to people around her including Carter and her father. During one intimate moment later in the film, she reveals her old emotional wound to Carter, and she comes to care about him more than before. Although we are not so surprised when she eventually comes to meet her father, their meeting turns out to be sincerer than expected, and we can clearly sense how much she is changed through her ongoing predicament. As the center of the movie, Jessica Rothe ably carries the movie, and the supporting performers surrounding Rothe fill their respective functional roles as required while having each own little fun through their repeated moments.

On the whole, the movie is a well-made product which is also modestly enjoyable, but it has several notable weak points. For example, you will probably be able to guess the killer’s identity from the beginning if you are well aware of my late mentor/friend Roger Ebert’s Law of Economy of Characters, and you may also need considerable suspension of disbelief for accepting the killer’s ability to appear here and there for eventually killing our heroine.

Although I did not feel like wasting time during my viewing, “Happy Death Day” is neither scary nor funny enough for recommendation, and I also think it could be more entertaining and refreshing if it pushed its story premise further than predicted. I give the movie 2.5 stars for these reasons, but I guess you will probably enjoy it more than me if you happen to come across it while having some free time to kill.

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