Who would have thought that in recent years, Groundhog Day, would become its own sub-genre of cinema? In its never-ending quest to provide films that can fill theatres, Hollywood has produced countless remakes, reboots, and sequels, while also looking for new takes on classic films.
Happy Death Day, from director Christopher Landon, is essentially the result of someone saying, “What if Groundhog Day was a slasher movie like Scream?” In a nutshell, the film is about Tree, a young University student who gets murdered on her birthday but wakes up again the same morning, forced to relive the day of her death over and over again. She sets out to unmask her killer, hoping that if she survives the day, she’ll end the loop of horror.
Though the film may not be the most unique thing to hit theatres this year, it does offer a somewhat original take on an old story, with an entertaining end result.
The strongest aspect of the movie, without a doubt, is the fantastic lead performance from Jessica Rothe as Tree. She imbues her character with a hilariously sarcastic edge, but also effortlessly conveys terror when faced with her maddening situation. She never hams things up, and the wide range of emotions she displays throughout the film are all believable. Hopefully, the film launches her career into a variety of other roles—she has the makings of a fantastic lead actress.
Though Rothe shines as the film’s star, the supporting cast is less impressive. None of the side characters give exceptionally bad performances, but none of them are truly impressive either. They all serve their roles well enough, but the show truly belongs to Rothe.
The plot presents an intriguing mystery which, though not a puzzle worthy of Agatha Christie, has enough twists to lead to a satisfying conclusion without being thuddingly obvious. There are a few bits of cliché and moments that may cause audience members to roll their eyes, but overall, viewers should have no problem staying invested in the film throughout each iteration of Tree’s last day alive. Among the intrigue, there are also many moments of humour that land well, often helped by Rothe’s razor-sharp delivery and excellent comedic timing. Though it may be billed as more of a horror film, an effective darkly comic tone is consistently maintained, making it more funny than scary.
The lack of terror presented in the film may be a detriment to some viewers, though. There’s a few jump scares, and some good moments of suspense, but since this is a rare PG-13 slasher film, it’s not overly terrifying or gory. Lovers of graphic violence and bloody murders may feel a bit let down by the tamer nature of the movie, but for those looking for a fun time at the cinema, it delivers.
In the end, that’s exactly what Happy Death Day is: a fun time at the movies. Its individual elements are all things we’ve seen done onscreen before, but the way it presents its combination of time loop—murder mystery—slasher flick manages to feel fresh. It’s not the best horror or thriller to hit theatres this year, but that’s not to damn it with faint praise; it’s a perfectly entertaining film with a terrific lead performance.
(Featured Image: Happy Death Day, Universal Pictures)