Friday, April 6, 2018

Movie Review: Happy Death Day (2017)

Happy Death Day (2017) directed by Christopher Landon

Tree (Jessica Rothe) is a spoiled sorority girl who wakes up in some strange guy's dormitory bed. She's hung over and doesn't remember the guy's name, and doesn't particularly care either. She's unpleasant to a bunch of people she mets on her walk of shame back to the sorority. She has an antagonistic exchange with her best friend their and dumps the cupcake her roommate made for her in the trash. Tree is not a nice young woman. She get her comeuppance in the most horrible way possible: She's murdered on the night of her birthday. If that wasn't bad enough, she wakes up in the same dormitory bed and has to relive the day over and over again with the same ending--death by a masked killer. Is the only way out killing the killer before the killer kills her? She's so rude and selfish to people, the list of suspects is practically everyone on campus.

This premise may sound like an exceptionally dark take on Groundhog Day. A lot of modern horror movies do go for a pessimistic view, often with a "no win" ending for the protagonist. Happily, this movie's tone is much lighter and it takes the redemption of the main character seriously. She is really unlikeable at the beginning, she does realize she is a horrible person, she does take steps to be a better person. Instead of always doing the selfish, easy things, she starts to do much harder and more selfless actions, partly in hope of solving her murder but also in recognition that a morally better life is a happier life. Pain and sorrow are not unavoidable but they can have a healing quality that Tree recognizes. The story turns out to be perfectly in tune with Groundhog Day's message.

This movie isn't as great as Groundhog Day but it does have good thematic similarities and a lot of attention to detail. Similar events throughout the day are given enough variation (either through different camera work or different actions by Tree) that the film doesn't become monotonous or predictable. Other than her dying every time, of course. The deaths are also not as gruesomely depicted (the movie is PG-13), which keeps the tone lighter. The movie makers are certainly aware of the tropes of slasher films (Tree is stalked in a tunnel, in a hospital hallway, in a parking garage, etc.) and uses them well. While it has tense moments it isn't particularly scary. It is immensely enjoyable.

Recommended as a surprisingly upbeat and well-crafted horror film.

Parental warning: In addition to some non-grisly death scenes (mostly she's stabbed but not with lot of blood), the characters use a moderate bit of swearing, including one f-bomb presumably to ensure the PG-13 rating. There's some mild kissing scenes and one naked walk of shame without any private parts showing. One student turns out to be gay and Tree encourages that character to be open about it (there's nothing graphic other than a video of two guys kissing).

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