Happy Death Day

National Post (Latest Edition) - - POST MOVIES - Tina Hassannia

Film­mak­ers never seem to tire of re­mak­ing Ground­hog Day with a twist. The new­est it­er­a­tion of the re­peat- the­same-day- un­til- you- get- itright for­mula is the slasher film Happy Death Day. Blonde and pretty coed Tree (Jes­sica Rothe) keeps wak­ing up i n some dude’s dorm room, re­liv­ing her birth­day, and be­ing killed by a mys­te­ri­ously masked psy­cho.

No one de­serves to be killed this way, but to be fair, Tree is a Grade A bitch; there­fore, the kind of karma Hol­ly­wood has long deemed to be her kind of char­ac­ter’s fate is be­ing stabbed with a butcher knife. Among nu­mer­ous peo­ple Tree is cruel to, there’s the dorm guy Carter ( Is­rael Brous­sard), who kindly gets her Tylenol for her gru­elling han­gover, the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist stu­dent ask­ing for a pe­ti­tion sig­na­ture whom Tree word­lessly pushes past, her room­mate Lori ( Ruby Mo­dine), whose made-from-scratch birth­day cup­cake Tree throws in the garbage with­out a sec­ond thought. With­out fail, ev­ery time Tree nears the sur­prise birth­day her soror­ity sis­ters have planned, a per­son wear­ing a creepy mask re­sem­bling the col­lege mas­cot hunts her down and kills her.

The Ground­hog Day premise is f un to watch when the pro­tag­o­nist clev­erly ex­per­i­ments break­ing the spell. This is why, for ex­am­ple, Edge of To­mor­row, fea­tur­ing a con­tin­u­ously bruised and hu­mil­i­ated Tom Cruise, is an en­ter­tain­ing and mas­ter­ful ex­er­cise of the genre. But Happy Death Day un­der­es­ti­mates the fun in Tree’s ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, and gets there too late. Tree needs at least two rep­e­ti­tions be­fore she un­der­stands what’s go­ing on, which slows down the nar­ra­tive pace and bores view­ers.

When Tree fi­nally tries a few meth­ods in es­cap­ing her killer, only to re­al­ize death al­ways man­ages to catch up to her in one way or an­other — a some­what mem­o­rable scene in­volves try­ing to get ar­rested so she’ll be safe in po­lice head­quar­ters, only to have the killer blow up a cop car with a gaso­line- lit birth­day can­dle — the pace picks up again, but the ex­e­cu­tion ( no pun in­tended) of cutesy death scenes like this are slow to fruition and un­der­de­vel­oped. What is there left for the film to try out next, but suss out the iden­tity of the killer?

Given Tree’s barbed per­son­al­ity, the list of sus­pects is nigh- high, and a mon­tage of her cross­ing off each per­son from the list — in­clud­ing Danielle (Rachel Matthews), the catty Queen Bee of the soror­ity house — is en­ter­tain­ing to watch, though frus­trat­ingly short-lived.

Nearly ev­ery nar­ra­tive el­e­ment that would make Happy Death Day in­ter­est­ing ends up dis­ap­point­ing. It’s ei­ther overtly pre­de­ter­mined, like the cas­cade of witty one- lin­ers Tree has for each pre­dictable prompt in her day, in­clud­ing Carter’s room­mate’s nick­name for her, “fine vagine”; or too neat, like the sup­pos­edly grue­some deaths the masked killer de­liv­ers be­ing lit­tle more than PG-13-rated slasher scares; or far too short­lived, like Tree’s quick dash through her sus­pect list.

Through the process, Tree pre­dictably learns how to be­come a bet­ter per­son and au­then­tic to other peo­ple, i nclud­ing Carter, whom she re­al­izes didn’t take ad­van­tage of her when she was drunk and is a le­git­i­mately nice catch. It turns out Tree’s bitch­i­ness is due to her mom’s death from three years ago, lit­tle more than a shoe­horned sub- plot about her fam­ily’s lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion in griev­ing.

What does Happy Death Day get right? Its sur­prise fi­nal twist is ad­mit­tedly in­ter­est­ing, and the film does try to be orig­i­nal in nar­ra­tive ur­gency with the con­cept that her body is ac­tu­ally ac­cu­mu­lat­ing the phys­i­cal toll of mul­ti­ple deaths. When it varies Tree’s re­ac­tions to her repet­i­tive day — stressed out, clever, weird, nude, de­ter­mined — the film fi­nally earns its hu­mour points. Happy Death Day is a for­mu­laic and semi-en­joy­able it­er­a­tion of the Ground­hog Day for­mula, but doesn’t even get close to that film’s charm or pathos. ∂∂½

UNI­VER­SAL STU­DIOS

Happy Death Day is the story of col­lege stu­dent (Jes­sica Rothe) who re­lives the day of her mur­der un­til she dis­cov­ers her killer’s iden­tity.

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