THE HORROR, THE HORROR, THE HORROR ...
Slasher flick is like Groundhog Day with a masked killer
Filmmakers never seem to tire of remaking Groundhog Day with a twist. The newest iteration of the repeat-the-same-day-until-youget-it-right formula is the slasher film Happy Death Day. Pretty student Tree (Jessica Rothe) keeps waking up in 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 B-word. So by Hollywood karma, her fate is to be 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; and 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 in a creepy mask hunts her down and kills her.
The Groundhog Day premise is fun 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, slowing the pace and boring 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, the pace picks up again. But the execution (no pun intended) of cutesy death scenes is slow to come to fruition and underdeveloped. What is there left for the film to try out next but to suss out the identity of the killer?
Given Tree’s barbed personality, the list of suspects is high. 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.
Through the process, Tree predictably learns how to become a better person and authentic to other people, including Carter, who she realizes didn’t take advantage of her when she was drunk and is a legitimately nice catch. 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.
Tree, played by Jessica Rothe, must relive the day of her murder until she discovers her killer’s identity.