“Happy Death Day,” the story of a woman who’s caught in an endless loop of her own death, follows in the footsteps of “Get Out” by taking familiar elements from the horror genre but delivering the scares with more wit, wisdom and wonder.
It starts with Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe), a sorority sister in desperate need of some sensitivity training, waking up in a strange college dorm room. Her meeting with the dorm’s sweet, naive occupant is the start of a string of humiliating moments magnified by it being Tree’s birthday. Her suffering comes to an end when a man dressed in all black wearing a baby face mask attacks and kills her.
Tree wakes the next morning (that’s really the same morning) with a major sense of deja vu and, ultimately, a murderous end to her day. Tree is killed three or four times before she realizes that until she figures out her killer’s identity, the day will repeat. But each time Tree awakens, she’s a bit weaker.
“Happy Death Day” has a body count to rival most horror movies. But the film departs from the tried-and-true horror format by having Tree be the subject of all the attacks. In a standard horror movie, the only fun is guessing in which order those trapped in an old mansion, sorority house, etc. will be killed. Here, the focus goes from a morbid game of chance to a smart whodunit.
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Tree relives her death day repeatedly and it’s obvious that somehow, the killer is going to find her. Even with that knowledge, Scott Lobdell’s script is so smartly written that each ending comes as a surprise.
Rothe is believable as the snotty sorority sister, the scared and confused murder victim, and the strong woman who finds clues about her killer with each death. It’s a demanding task because she is in every scene.
Director Christopher Landon has created a film that has scary moments but is not burdened by endless slaughter. The filmmakers also never give into the gratuitous sex that is always a signal that someone is about to die. And they find time for the kind of levity that rarely pops up in a serious horror film.
Anyone looking to enjoy some scares while trying to figure out a very clever mystery should plan on seeing “Happy Death Day” … should plan on seeing “Happy Death Day” … should plan on seeing “Happy Death Day” …
‘Happy Death Day’
Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual content, language, partial nudity.