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John’s Horror Corner: Happy Death Day (2017), Groundhog Day (1993) meets Scream (1996) in this surprisingly entertaining college slasher.

October 20, 2017

MY CALL:  The Groundhog Day (1993) callbacks are frequent, satisfying and most importantly self-aware in this delightful stalker movie. It was fun, jumpy, tense, engaging and…did I mention FUN?  Go see this.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Happy Death DayI can’t believe I’m going to say this to you, horror fans.  But, for real, go see Groundhog Day (1993)—it’s like Stephen King wrote a comedy.  I’d strongly recommend Scream (1996) if you haven’t seen it—great metamovie.  Also Hush (2016), simply as another clever slasher/stalker film.

I have to admit, I didn’t necessarily expect this to be more than an entertaining (if good) little horror flick with a feisty gimmick playfully riffing on a favorite ‘90s comedy: Groundhog Day (1993).  But little did I know, this film was directed by one of the writers of Paranormal Activity 2-3 (2010-2011; also 4 and Marked Ones, but I was less a fan of them) and the outstanding teen thriller Disturbia (2007).  Director Christopher Landon (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) has the gifts of sophomoric humor, mature slow-building tension, and well-invested characters that earn audience sympathy.  All three find themselves well-married in this actually quite delightful horror movie!

The plot is simple (especially if you’ve seen Groundhog Day): a college student relives the day of her murder over and over again in a cycle presumably only broken by preventing her own death.  That hapless victim is Tree (Jessica Rothe; The Tribe, Parallels), and her day repeatedly starts with awakening in a strange dorm room with a major hangover and no recollection of the night before.

The Groundhog Day callbacks are frequent, clearly deliberate (as indicated in the last few minutes of the film), and I delight in them!  Those familiar with the 1993 comedy will envision Bill Murray throwing his bedside radio, killing himself, eating with reckless abandon, predicting random events, being mean, being nice, being hypercognitive…I smiled a lot watching this.  Tree’s relationships with those she encounters on her time-looped birthday radically shift from normal, to confused, to paranoid, to slapstick, to constructive.

The writing was solid, the camerawork was good, the pacing was great, I liked the story…I have (honestly) no complaints.  I also thought the cast all did great!  Some notables from the cast include Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine and Rachel Matthews.  Oh, and Jessica Rothe knocked it outta’ the park!  The repetition of the day’s events give us ample opportunity to flesh out characters presented to us in the context of a First Act—which was really cool.

For the squeamish, this film will be fine.  There’s a bit of blood and no real gore.  Rather than relying on shock-cinema gore stylings, this film rides the wave of dreading Tree’s next encounter with her killer…and it all works well!  She never encounters the killer the same way twice (which actually makes sense in the end) and we are often edgy about just whom the killer actually is.  There’s also quite of bit of Scream -esque (1996) humor stitched between the suspense.

We even find a lot of non-comedic humor in the irony and awkwardness of reliving the same events again and again.  It’s all rather charming and, much to my surprise, manages to proceed uninhibited by the killer’s odd baby-faced mask.

I’m gonna’ say it.  This movie was delightful.  It was a lot of fun, had a fair balance of jumps and legit tension, the story was engaging and the delivery was self-aware.  Highly recommended, probably highly rewatchable as well, and I intend to buy it.  Enjoy!

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