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‘Happy Death Day’ is the party you didn’t know you wanted

October 13, 2017

We’ve all been there: you find out about a party, and despite knowing you’re going to hate it, you go anyway. And then, through no fault of your own, you end up doing six keg stands, a dozen shots, and someone shows up with a bunch of pizza. A good time is had by all.

Tree (Jessica Rothe) is a college student that relives the day of her murder – and her birthday – with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer's identity. (Photo Credit: Universal Pictures © 2017 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

Well, that’s kind of how “Happy Death Day” was for me. I mean, there were no keg stands, shots or pizzas, but I went in KNOWING I was gonna have a bad time … and then I didn’t.

 

Tree (Jessica Rothe), a self-absorbed sorority girl, wakes up the morning of her birthday in the dorm room of a stranger, Carter (Israel Broussard), a killer hangover.

 

She goes about her normal day – awkward walk of shame across campus; tense interaction with housemate Danielle (Rachel Matthews); a less tense, but still tense interaction with her roommate, Lori (Ruby Modine); an inappropriate liaison; dodging her father’s phone calls; making a lonely walk across a dark campus to a frat party; and her eventual death at the hands of a masked murderer.


You know, regular every day stuff.

 

The thing is, though, despite her murder, Tree wakes up and it’s once again her birthday and everything is the same as the previous day.

 

Rinse, repeat until she figures out who’s responsible for her death, why, and finds a way to stop it.

Lori (Ruby Modine) greets her roommate Tree (Jessica Rothe) a happy birthday cupcake – many, many times – in “Happy Death Day.” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures © 2017 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

Yes, I know this is pretty much a reimagining of “Groundhog Day” with college girls taking the place of Phil and Ned Ryerson. And, yes, I know this premise has been done a lot, including “Before I Fall” earlier this year. I also know that if done wrong, this timey wimey stuff can come out a big old mess.

 

I know all of those things, and yet it doesn’t faze me one bit.

 

Why?

 

Well, because while it’s a premise we’re familiar with, screenwriter Scott Lobdell and director Christopher Landon give “Happy Death Day” enough humor and enough different wrinkles to make it feel fresh and keep you guessing … when it really has no business feeling that way.

 

The other thing that keeps the film fun is the three main actresses. It’s interesting to see how Rothe keeps Tree evolving in each of her incarnations, much in the same way Bill Murray did with Phil back in 1993. Add to that the over-the-top “mean girl” played by Matthews and the uptight polar opposite played by Modine, you’ve got the perfect foils to Tree.

 

With its PG-13 rating, “Happy Death Day” isn’t going to satisfy the blood-thirsty splatter fans of the horror genre, but there’s enough jump scares to satisfy the jump scare crowd, its short enough (96 minutes) that the story can’t drag at all, and there’s enough laughs to occupy the minds of those dragged to the theater by the jump scare crowd.

 

★★★★ of ★★★★★

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