Sunday, April 29, 2018

Happy Death Day (2017)

If, like me, you saw the trailer for Happy Death Day and dismissed it as a slasher ripoff of Groundhog's Day, you would not be mistaken in the least.  But, like me, you also missed out on a fun little horror film when it hit theaters.  It isn't trying to be the next Get Out, but succeeds in being a fun, somewhat spooky treat for a lazy evening on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and a few drinks. 

The movie starts with bitchy sorority girl Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) waking up in Carter Davis' (Israel Broussard) dorm room after blacking out during a night of heavy partying on the eve of her birthday.  Carter claims he only brought her back to sleep things off and he didn't touch her, but Tree is surprisingly unconcerned with that possibility and is more worried that her reputation would suffer if people found out she even associated with someone living in a dorm, let alone spent the night in one. 

Tree's callous attitudes towards those around her continues throughout the day.  She tosses a birthday cupcake from her roommate into the trash, ignores a birthday call from her father, and is just a horrible person to anyone she has contact with.  The only person she is nice to is the instructor she's sleeping with, but his wife interrupts  the birthday quickie she had in mind.

As she is obviously in the running for the most horrible person on campus, no one should be shocked that, on her way to a frat party that evening, Tree is stabbed by a killer wearing a baby-face mask.

Oh, and did I mention this is the school mascot?
Unfortunately, the reason why is one mystery 
the script never resolves.

For some reason (karma or Cthulhu, take your pick), Tree finds herself in a time loop, waking in Carter's dorm after her death and forced to relive her birthday until she is murdered again.  After a few failed attempts to outrun her fate, Tree decides to figure out who is killing her in an attempt to survive her birthday and wake up with her life off the repeat mode she finds herself stuck in. 

As you might expect, she becomes a nicer person in the process, as the audience wouldn't be invested in Tree solving her murder if she remained an unrepentant, vile human being.  And Rothe does a very good job portraying the transformation that occurs in Tree as she is killed and forced to relive the same day over again and again.

Really?  Another day and I'm murdered again?
Bill Murray had it SO easy.

Despite the script dipping into stereotypes, as the film doesn't have the running time to really flesh out any character other than Tree, the other actors are are quite good.  My only complaint is when the script requires them to be a bit too over the top, which they handle as best they can.  Yep, interview scene at the end, I'm talking to you.

Screenwriter Scott Lobdell has a grand time with the mystery element, especially once Tree realizes she has to solve her murder to break the loop.  At that point, each day becomes like a police procedural, as she picks a suspect and tries to keep them from killing her.  Fortunately, the script keeps offing each suspect, leaving Tree and the audience with a dwindling pool of potential killers.  The script even adds in a nice payoff to Tree's changing personality, as some of her decisions are based on her desire to reset things for someone other than herself.

Sure, Tree does transform from screaming victim to a fighter at a point, but the script makes the transition feel right.  She knows enough about the events of the day to allow her to make up a battle plan that uses her brains, not brawn, which feel more realistic than having her transform into an Alice-style ass kicker. 

I might be a shrieking victim now, 
but just wait until later in the film, you jerk. 

The film has a few minor problems.  At one point, Tree discovers the injuries she sustains each time she dies stay with her in the next incarnation.  Though she's healed each day, Tree realizes the accumulated trauma will be enough to cause her severe problems at some point, yet the script doesn't really follow through with this issue.

And though the script delivers some pretty nice twists, the final reveal isn't well set up.  Usually when a film doesn't provide enough information to make you think back and realize how the filmmakers fooled you with some cinematic slight of hand, it ruins tends to ruin the film for me.  But the story and performances won me over enough that, in the end, I was willing to suspend my disbelief without much of a problem. 

As I said earlier, Happy Death Day isn't trying to remake the horror genre, or say anything important.  It's just trying to be a fun little flick, and it's quite successful in that regard.  That's not something you can say about many movies coming out today.

So, do you think the desire to create sequels have killed the movie-going experience, 
or just that multiplexes won't promote small, well-made B-movies anymore?

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