Ground­hog Day lives again as funny slasher flick

Toronto Star - - ENTERTAINMENT - RYAN PORTER

Happy Death Day

★★★ (out of 4) Star­ring Jes­sica Rothe, Is­rael Brous­sard, Ruby Mo­dine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken, Caleb Spill­yards, Rob Mello and Ja­son Bayle. Di­rected by Christo­pher Lan­don. Opens Fri­day at GTA The­atres. 96 min­utes. 14A

The clever script for Happy Death Day solves one of the slasher genre’s core con­tra­dic­tions: how do you stage a se­ries of crazy, creepy killings yet have your hero sur­vive un­til the fi­nal face­off? Usu­ally that means a pro­ces­sion of un­der­de­vel­oped friends and ac­quain­tances, but here, self-cen­tred soror­ity sis­ter Tree Gelb­man is not just the first vic­tim, she’s the sec­ond, third, fourth and beyond, as she is res­ur­rected morn­ing af­ter morn­ing to live the same day over again.

The one-day-in­fi­nite-times plot struc­ture is, of course, deeply as­so­ci­ated with Ground­hog Day, and was also used to un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated ef­fect in Tom Cruise’s Edge of To­mor­row. What makes Death Day feel so fresh is that this is all played with a whop­per of a wink, pulled off by the con­sid­er­able comedic tal­ents of star Jes­sica Rothe, who suc­cess­fully jug­gles the hor­ror/com­edy mash-up.

Take the way she races across cam­pus in last night’s sparkling sil­ver tank top and black leg­gings: her face is all ter­ror even as she strug­gles to shuffle with dig­nity in heels. Rothe’s big­gest screen credit thus far is as one of Emma Stone’s three room­mates in La La Land, but Death Day should rightly an­nounce her Hol­ly­wood break­through.

Though de­pict­ing a soror­ity sis­ter as a pretty and petty self-in­volved elit­ist isn’t ex­actly the most novel take on Greek life, her hor­ri­ble per­son­al­ity is what makes it so fun to watch Tree get se­ri­ally mur­dered. If she wasn’t just the worst, could the film re­ally do a mu­si­cal mon­tage of Tree get­ting mur­dered set to the tune of Demi Lo­vato’s “Con­fi­dent”?

It’s com­mend­able for a film built on rep­e­ti­tion that the only mo­ments which drag are when the film takes it­self too se­ri­ously. Stripped of its hu­mour, the film can quickly be­come the kind of schlocky scare-bynum­bers B-movie it so bril­liantly sends up.

Of course, re­peat­ing the same story again and again is the hor­ror genre’s spe­cialty and there’s cer­tainly plenty of fran­chise po­ten­tial in Happy Death Day: The cheap plas­tic baby mask worn by the killer, with its echoes of vin­tage chil­dren’s Hal­loween cos­tumes, is not only ef­fec­tively creepy but an ob­vi­ous mar­ket­ing op­por­tu­nity. A mu­sic box — topped with porce­lain fig­urines of chil­dren blow­ing out birth­day can­dles — which plays a tin­kling, dy­ing ver­sion of “Happy Birth­day” seems like the kind of talisman that could link a fran­chise long af­ter Rothe has hung up her Death Day heels.

Like the 1993 Bill Mur­ray com­edy, there isn’t much ex­pla­na­tion as to what makes Tree im­mune to the march of time. It is more ac­cept­able to gloss over this in com­edy than in hor­ror, where su­per­nat­u­ral oc­cur­rences gen­er­ally oc­cur within the con­text of a broader mythol­ogy, even if it’s just some non­sense about a witch who burned down a con­vent where the sis­ters had banned birth­days.

But con­sid­er­ing the film is such a suc­cess­ful bal­ance of com­edy and hor­ror, ex­pect­ing it to also ex­plain its own non­sense plot feels a lit­tle greedy.

This is a movie called Happy Death Day af­ter all.

UNI­VER­SAL

In the slasher film Happy Death Day, a col­lege stu­dent (Jes­sica Rothe) re­lives the day of her mur­der with both its un­ex­cep­tional de­tails and ter­ri­fy­ing end un­til she dis­cov­ers her killer’s iden­tity.

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