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"HAPPY DEATH DAY"
(2017) (Jessica Roth, Israel Broussard) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Horror: A college student tries to solve the mystery of reliving the exact same day over and over again where she ends up being murdered at the end each time.
PLOT:
Tree Gelbman (JESSICA ROTHE) is a college student at a Louisiana university who's known as a promiscuous party girl. That lifestyle has resulted in her waking up in the dorm room of another student, Carter Davis (ISRAEL BROUSSARD), who she figures she must have drunkenly had sex with. Hung-over, she returns to her sorority house where she's confronted by the head of her sorority, Danielle (RACHEL MATTHEWS), and blows off the birthday wishes from her roommate, Lori (RUBY MODINE), before rushing off to class with her married professor, Gregory (CHARLES AITKEN), with whom she's having an affair. At the end of the day, while walking alone, she's confronted by a person wearing a mask fashioned after the school mascot and ends up murdered by them.

She then jolts awake in Carter's dorm room again, and is confused by all of the same meaningless events seemingly happening again in order. When she encounters the masked figure that night, she tries to get away but once again is murdered, only to wake up in Carter's dorm room yet another time. From that point on, and as that same day keeps repeating itself, Tree tries to figure out what's happening, who the killer is, and how to survive to the next day.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
As far as I know, all species of animals come with just one life, including, obviously, humans. Yet for specific reasons unknown to me, cats are noted as having nine lives. Perhaps that stems from their association with ancient Egyptians and being mummified alongside their human companions for another go at life. Then again, it might go back to black cats being associated with witches back in the days of Salem.

Or it could just be the fact that many a feline has somehow, often miraculously, avoided meeting their fate through nifty agility or just plain luck, thus seemingly giving them extra lives. Why it's nine is still a mystery, and yes I realize I could use Google to find the answer, but some things are best left unknown.

With that in mind and even with the feline "fact" addressed in dialogue, I'm surprised that those involved in the making of "Happy Death Day" didn't name their protagonist Cat or Kat (short for Cathy or Katherine). No, that wouldn't have affected how the story plays out, but it would have been a little insider joke fun in this tale of a college student who seemingly has her own set of nine lives.

Much like Bill Murray's Phil Connors in "Groundhog Day" or Tom Cruise's William Cage in "Edge of Tomorrow," our heroine here, Tree (Jessica Routhe), finds herself stuck in a 24-hour time loop. In her case, each repeating day ends with her demise at the hands of an assailant wearing a college mascot mask (designed not only to hide the perp's identity, but also presumably to create a new, iconic masked horror antagonist along the lines of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers or Ghostface from "Scream").

While certainly lacking in novelty and nowhere as smart or entertaining as its two stuck in time predecessors, the film -- directed by Christopher B. Landon from a screenplay by Scott Lobdell -- certainly has potential. Rather than being an observational comedy or action-based sci-fi sort of tale, this one obviously falls squarely into the horror wheelhouse of Blumhouse, the mini-studio responsible for well-known genre pics such as "Get Out" and the "Insidious" and "Paranormal Activity" films.

And rather than following the usual trope of watching a masked boogeyman kill off one young person after another (where about the only interesting thing is usually just in what order the deaths will occur), the victim here is afforded the chance to not only solve the mystery of the killer's identity, but also ultimately prevent her own demise and make it to the next day.

The character is also noted as being a promiscuous party girl -- the literal and figurative kiss of death for such female characters in most horror films -- and the fact that she's given a chance to redeem herself (in a twist on what Murray's character similarly did in "G-Day"), throws in another example of turning a genre convention on its head.

Of course, she's not that likeable in general, something that does hurt the flick a bit in terms of rooting for her success and thus fully engaging viewers (Phil was also a jerk in the Harold Ramis film, but Murray made him a loveable loser in his trademark style that made us overlook his antisocial tendencies).

Like its predecessors, the story here involves the protagonist attempting to figure out what's happening (after eventually accepting the scenario and predicament) and ultimately change things enough to escape the loop. In that regard, it pales in comparison to "Groundhog" and "Edge," particularly in terms of making progress, only to have everything -- including other characters' knowledge of what's occurring -- reset when the killer's knife (or other weapon of murder) strikes. The protagonist then wakes up yet again in the bed of a dorm room occupied by a student (Israel Broussard) who apparently thought he was going to get lucky the night before, but thought better of taking advantage of an intoxicated coed.

For a while, the story had me intrigued and engaged. But the fact that it ultimately feels redundant and predictable (yes, I know, an expected landmine for storytelling such as this), runs out of clever ideas and then falls apart near the end as it tries to throw in an extra twist to what seemed like the conclusive solving of the mystery (which itself feels lame) means I'm lukewarm at best toward the overall offering.

Perhaps in a world where "Groundhog" and "Edge" never existed, this might have seemed like something far better than it is. As it stands, its lack of novelty and enough smarts to make it stand apart don't necessarily kill the flick, but that certainly wounds "Happy Death Day" enough that it only warrants a 5 out of 10 rating.




Reviewed October 10, 2017 / Posted October 13, 2017


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