Looking Back at 2010s Films: Happy Death Day (2017)

22 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

“Happy Death Day” is a time-loop movie, in which a character has to repeat the same day over and over again in order to right some wrongs and possibly save some lives. But unlike “Source Code” and “Edge of Tomorrow,” this time-loop movie actually has the guts to reference “Groundhog Day” at least once. In this case, it’s a college sorority girl, Tree (Jessica Rothe), who gets killed by a masked killer (actually, the mask is of the campus’ mascot…a baby…wtf?), and…wakes up to repeat the day over again. Then she gets killed again…then she wakes up again…then she gets killed again and again and again, until she ultimately finds out who did it…or keeps doing it!

I was surprised by how much I liked “Happy Death Day.” It was a PG-13 slasher film that actually worked. It had a good sense of humor about itself, which made it fun, and it also benefitted from a really solid character arc for our main character, Tree, who starts off as bitchy and unlikable and then earns our sympathy by the end of the movie.

Much of the film’s success is because of Jessica Rothe’s performance as Tree. Tree is a mean-girl type who is harsh to pretty much everyone she meets, lets a lot of people down, turns down nice guys, and is pretty much a horrible person; thus, this time-loop she’s trapped in gives her ample opportunity to change herself for the better…if she lives through the day for once! Rothe has to portray the character in many different ways that show her progression–she’s mean, she’s picky, she’s confused, she’s scared, she’s regretful, she’s a fighter, she’s sweet–and it never feels forced! She can even be funny too–there’s a scene in which she gets away from the killer, only to be pulled over by a patrol cop, and she realizes she can escape death if she gets arrested and spends the night in a jail cell…so she straight-up tells the cop she’s drunk, stoned, under all kinds of influences (“You name it, man, I’m on it!”). I love that–she plays it so well. This is a good example of character development, when a character I start out disliking gradually turns into someone I wouldn’t mind revisiting again in the future.

SHE is the reason I saw “Happy Death Day 2U!” (I’ll get to that one soon.)

As a little foot-note, I’ll add that I liked Carter, the nice, awkward romantic-interest (played by Israel Broussard). I’m at that point in the horror film genre where if the main character is an average, bland, shy, awkward geek with a heart of gold, I immediately don’t care anymore. But thankfully, Carter’s written with a little more wit and intelligence than several other characters of the sort, the actor’s simply likable, and he and Tree have good chemistry together. (“Oh hey. You’re up–” “SILENCE!”)

Not bad for a movie from the director of “Paranormal Activity 5” and “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.”

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