Happy Death Day

Happy-Death-Day-rev Happy Death Day  (2017)    Universal/Horror-Thriller    RT: 96 minutes    Rated PG-13 (violence and terror, crude sexual content, language, some drug material, partial nudity)    Director: Christopher Landon    Screenplay: Scott Lobdell    Music: Bear McCreary    Cinematography: Toby Oliver    Release date: October 13, 2017 (US)    Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken, Laura Clifton, Phi Vu,  Caleb Spillyards, Jason Bayle, Rob Mello, Blaine Kern III, Donna Duplantier.

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 Forgive me for being sentimental but I long for yesteryear when Halloween meant R-rated horror movies at local theaters. In the 21st century, that tradition has given way to PG-13 fright flicks; that way, the kiddies can play too. Sadly, most of these movies are bad. They contain vapid characters, weak storylines and an overabundance of CGI effects. Only the most timid viewers would find them even remotely scary.

HAPPY-DEATH-DAYForgive me for being sentimental but I long for yesteryear when Halloween meant R-rated horror movies at local theaters. In the 21st century, that tradition has given way to PG-13 fright flicks; that way, the kiddies can play too. Sadly, most of these movies are bad. They contain vapid characters, weak storylines and an overabundance of CGI effects. Only the most timid viewers would find them even remotely scary. Has the déjà vu kicked in yet?

 See what I just did?

 It’s not a misprint; it’s absolutely intentional. I want to put you in the same frame of mind as the protagonist of Happy Death Day, a teen horror movie with an intriguing premise. A sorority girl relives the same day over and over again, a day that always ends with her demise at the hands of a masked killer. In order to break the cycle, she must solve and prevent her own murder. Call it Groundhog Day meets Scream.

 I had my usual trepidations as I took my seat at a morning showing of Happy Death Day. A PG-13 slasher flick, how does that work? Better than you’d think actually. I wasn’t all that impressed with the trailer but the movie ended up exceeding my expectations. It’s a neat little whodunit thriller that will have most viewers guessing right up to the final big twist. I say most because I expect the majority of audience members will be teens unfamiliar with the rules of the genre. More seasoned viewers will figure it out long before everybody else including the main character. Either way, Happy Death Day is kind of fun.

 The day always starts the same, with Tree Gelbman (Rothe, La La Land) waking up in a dorm room with a massive hangover and no idea how she got there. She can’t even remember the name of the guy whose room she’s in. For the record, it’s Carter (Broussard, The Bling Ring). She hurriedly gets dressed and leaves but not before the d-bag roommate shows up and makes a crude comment. She exits the dorm to begin her walk of shame back to her sorority house. A hipster glares at her over a pair of shades. A girl asks her to sign a petition to end global warming. The sprinklers go on and drench a studying couple. A car alarm goes off. A frat pledge passes out during a hazing ritual. When Tree finally makes it home, she’s confronted by the sorority’s nasty Queen-B leader Danielle (Matthews). Her roommate Lori (Modine, Central Park), having discovered it’s her birthday, has baked a single cupcake for her which promptly ends up in the trash (too many carbs!). It’s a fairly eventful day for Tree. She arrives late for class. Her hook-up with her professor (Aitken) ends with them nearly being discovered in a compromising position by his wife (Clifton). During a mandatory sorority meeting at lunch, Danielle fat-shames a sister who has the unmitigated gall to actually eat something. Tree dodges calls from her dad. That night, she heads out for a party and gets killed by somebody in a mask. At that point, she wakes up in Carter’s room and it starts all over again. And again. And again. And so on and so on.

 Tree is your typical sorority mean girl. She’s shallow, rude and self-centered. As such, the suspect list is long. Who wants her dead? Is it her creepy stalker (Spillyards) whose texts she keeps ignoring? Is it her frenemy Danielle jealous over some guy? Is it the roommate? The teacher? His wife? Carter? It could be any of them or none of them? Having to live the same day over and over again gives Tree ample opportunity to investigate and eliminate suspects until she figures it out. Along the way, she learns a few things about being a nicer person. She also finds out that Carter is actually a nice guy who only brought her back to his room that night so she wouldn’t choke to death on her own vomit like Janis Joplin. They did NOT have sex.

 I have a few thoughts about Happy Death Day. I like the title. It’s pretty cool. I like what they do with the Universal logo at the beginning. I won’t say what but it’s a nice little touch. I like the movie but I can’t help but think about what it could have been if the makers had gone for more of a parody. Think about it. Slasher movies are all pretty much the same; a homicidal maniac in a mask picks off a group of horny, idiotic teens until one is left. I realize that Wes Craven already spoofed the genre in his Scream movies but here you have a Groundhog Day scenario that could underscore the redundancy of these movies. I also wonder how Happy Death Day would be as an R-rated horror flick. It’s the kind of movie that cries for blood and body parts. At the same time, I get why it’s PG-13. Even if it’s not a spoof or parody, it has a sense of playfulness with the exaggerated college stereotypes and the twisty plot. It doesn’t really wink knowingly at the audience but it does play a pretty good game of “Gotcha!”.

 I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy Happy Death Day as much as I did. By no means is it a classic but I can see it making a nice chunk of money at the box office this Halloween. It’s an enjoyable movie. Rothe is quite good in the lead role. Her character initially comes off as a bitch but as we get to know her, we understand why she’s built that wall around her. She goes through the entire gamut of emotions- sadness, fear, anger, happiness, etc- over the course of a single repetitive day. By the end, we’re rooting for her. The screenplay is clever and well-written. It moves at a nice pace. There are a few good “BOO!” scenes. Some of the characters- e.g. Danielle, Carter’s d-bag roommate- are annoying but this comes with the territory when making a movie about teens. The way the sorority girls talk to each other also got on my nerves but whatever. The bottom line is that Happy Death Day is an entertaining horror-thriller that’s sure to please the middle school/early high school crowd. It puts the fun back in horror movies.

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