Spoilers have done this before.
It’s actually very strange that I missed this movie with such a familiar premise. Horror, with a time loop twist and a comedy angle. I think comedy horror most often works best when the horror is serious and the comedy is incidental. And yes, there are exceptions but this movie understands fright must have a sharp edge or all is lost. Comedy almost appears by itself – of course that is the talent of doing comedy in horror, it has to appear almost by accident. In true Groundhog Day style, we also have a flawed protagonist.
Happy Death Day (2017) was directed by Christopher Landon and written by Scott Lobdell. Theresa known to her friends and frenemies as “Tree” (Jessica Rothe) wakes up inside a dorm room she doesn’t recognize only to meet Carter (Israel Broussard) who seems to have brought her in after she was dead drunk. Here’s one of the many routes the movie takes differently than this scenario would suggest in most films. Tree is not ashamed, nor is she apologizing. She’s wary of Carter because she doesn’t know what happened last night The movie is already depicting Carter as harmless with an awkward demeanor and an innocent attitude, something that is informing the audience that he’s not a predator. However, given that there’s a mysterious masked murder in this story, that information might be misleading.
The other thing the movie does differently is that it doesn’t shame Tree for her choices. It doesn’t particularly endorse them either, of course. However, when we meet frenemy Danielle (Rachel Matthews) it’s immediately obvious she’s an antagonist to our anti-heroine. Tree does seem to have one good friend in nurse student Lori (Ruby Modine) who is aware it’s Tree’s birthday and has cooked her a cupcake. Of course the way everyone is introduced into these clear cut roles will mean everyone we’re meeting is a suspect. That includes former hook-up Tim (Caleb Spillyards) who seems intent in trying to get together again. Let’s not forget the married teacher Gregory (Charles Aitken) who Tree has been having a secret affair with and his wife Stephanie (Laura Clifton).
When the night comes and Tree is supposed to join Danielle for yet another party, we learn that the baby mask is actually the team’s fan symbol. This is so weird that even the movie adds some meta commentary on how ridiculous it is. Of course that means that everyone wearing a baby mask is a suspect. Well, not everyone. Just that guy who was walking with that crowd past Tree and stopped to look threateningly at her while everyone’s backs were turned. Eventually, Tree has to walk under an overpass and sees a music box playing the birthday tune… and we know she’s getting murdered by the baby-masked murderer.
After her apparent demise, Tree suddenly wakes up back in Carter’s dorm room to repeat the same day over and over again. Of course, she goes through the stages of every character in a time loop: denial, desperation, panic, madness and indifference. It’s only after the obvious advice from Carter that she decides to go through the process of eliminating subjects one by one, which also means she gets eliminated herself every time she gets it wrong. Soon she discovers her wounds are not fully healing whenever she starts a new loop. Tree is not going to be able to keep doing this much longer.
Highly recommended for some irresponsible and careless fun, mostly if you’re looking for a horror but fun popcorn film. In the beginning, Tree is not your typical protagonist nor does she seem to have any relatable traits, but she does seem to be humanized and grow as a character through the experience. This doesn’t mean this movie has any sort of hidden depth to it, this is still a horror movie about surviving in the end, and the time loop device allows us to become couch theorists about what we think the main character should do next. It’s very comparable to gaming with a quicksave feature where you learn enough to make it through next time. Worth your time for every loop.
That will do for now.