Hot Take: When Groundhog Day Met Scream… Worked for me.
I admittedly had no desire to see Happy Death Day. I barely paid attention to the trailer and tried to nurse my popcorn to give me some sort of pleasure because I surely wasn’t expecting to get any from the viewing experience. As the film progressed, the horror/comedy won me over with it’s shameless wink to Groundhog Day and elbow nudges to Scream, Happy Death Day proved to be a fan service to those of us who love movies. While someone who refers to themselves as a film aficionado or a cinemaphile might be turned off by it, especially since we were given a teen targeted Groundhog Day clone in Before I Fall earlier this year. Happy Death Day is a fun, harmless horror flick in an age of super serious horror films and a welcome change of pace.
Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) wakes up in the dorm room of a stranger named Carter (Israel Broussard) with a splitting headache thanks to a hangover. As she does the walk of shame back to her Sorority House, the audience gets some fairly obvious insight that Tree might not be the best person in the world. When she gets back to her room, her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) gives her a cupcake for her birthday which she tosses in the trash. She heads to class where she’s fooling around with her professor (Charles Aitken) and then visits him at the hospital where he works as a doctor. Later in the day, she heads off to a frat party where, along the way, she is murdered by a masked man only to wake up back in the same dorm room of a stranger. IT’S GROUNDHOG DAY!
If you’re looking for something original, Happy Death Day is only original when you consider how it pulls two genres together and utilizes a classic film plot device to make it work. Rothe is the perfect comic lead and shows off a glowing personality even when her character is hard to like. She becomes a character easy to root for and fun to watch on screen. She’s no Bill Murray but, let’s face it, who is? Anyone paying close enough attention to the movie should realize early on the filmmakers are movie buffs since any movie featuring a movie poster on a wall typically has that tendency. (Check out the wall in the dorm room and you’ll see a They Live! poster.) It’s also no surprise that both screenwriter Scott Lobdell and director Charles B. Landon are both over 40 as the film pays homage to a different style of horror film more popular in the late 1980s and 1990s. There are a few other hat tips in the film (Sixteen Candles was one of the most obvious) which makes the viewing experience that much more fun.
The reason the film delivered so well for this viewer, though, was probably due to some rather low expectations. Much like 47 Meters Down earlier this year, I wasn’t expecting much. There’s also a pretty good chance the core audience for this film (girls under the age of 25) will have never seen Groundhog Day. By the box office numbers earlier this year, there’s a good chance they didn’t see Before I Fall either. So, that’ll make Happy Death Day a real delight for that audience. The real winner here though is Rothe who will likely move up the list of Hollywood talent and get the opportunity to build on her success here in a meatier role down the road.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Can This Plot Device Fail?
I can’t think of a film that tried the Groundhog Day approach and left me disappointed or failed to entertain.
- Thumbs Up For the Soundtrack
A rare Sia-free soundtrack works well thanks to The Lumineers, Demi Lovato and others.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Does Your Ring Tone Change On Your iPhone On Your Birthday?
Here’s a silly flaw in the film that might bug you thanks to the fact that it repeats so often. In the morning, Tree’s phone rings and her ring tone is a birthday ring tone. She doesn’t want anyone to know it is her birthday. So, why is this her ring tone?