The Bock’s Office: ‘Happy Death Day’ a horror flick stuck on repeat
Who could forget when Bill Murray had Punxsutawney Phil in his lap on a carefree joyride, knowing tomorrow would never come? Well, the heroine of “Happy Death Day” has never heard of that movie, but that doesn’t mean you should root for her untimely demise again and again.
I mean, you can, but it will get tiresome after a while…
It’s the morning of Sept. 18, and college student Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) has just awoken in a strange bed with a headache and no recollection of the boy (Israel Broussard) whose room it is.
But, that’s nothing new for the sorority girl, who is celebrating her birthday by ignoring it completely and going about her typical day on campus — blow off class, seduce her professor (Charles Aitken) and get ready for another night of partying.
Yet, Tree’s plans take a drastic change that night when she is attacked and murdered by a hooded stranger wearing a baby mask and brandishing a knife.
Rather than perishing, she wakes up exactly as she did that morning, with everything happening exactly as it had throughout the day to her confusion. Though she avoids meeting the same fate, the killer finds her in another way, and she dies again, going right back to the same scenario.
Confused about her situation, Tree starts to catch on that she will be doomed to live her birthday over and over until she solves and successfully prevents her own death.
It’s not exactly a star-making performance, but Rothe fits the scream queen archetype well enough as a young woman smart enough to know what’s amiss but thrown far too much at once. Her first round of the day in question is one where audiences will have no sympathy for her from start to finish, but if you can get past Tree’s initial toxic personality, you might actually want to see her stop dying.
Though it’s a mystery why he puts up with her nastiness at first, Broussard is in good form as Carter, the one-night stand she starts to fall for as she encounters him repeatedly, trusting only him to understand what’s happening as she works her way through the time loop.
As for the other figure she can’t help attracting, it’s up to you how creeped out you are by a slasher bearing the rubber face of an infant. OK, the eyes are definitely disturbing…
There must be some message somewhere in the subtext of a screenplay set at a college that chooses a baby for its mascot — The increasing infantilization of those in higher education? — as well as the perils of slut-shaming, but Scott Lobdell’s story is rife with half-thoughts and dead ends the further it goes.
Admittedly, there are a lot of clever diversions, including Tree determining that she might as well live it up when there are no consequences, parading around in the buff, or dealing out some revenge against her even more horrendous sorority president (Rachel Matthews), all the while getting done in by every conceivable method.
You’d think that fatality hangover each day would make you want to figure things out faster.
With script credits for most of the “Paranormal Activity” movies, director Christopher B. Landon at least knows how to create some suspense, yet his choice for abandoning true terror for uneasy laughs is a tactic that makes for something too messy, too convoluted and too annoyingly self-aware to take seriously either as a true horror entry or a dark comedy.
Any movie that can be summed up as an amalgam of the plots of two superior films — in this case, “Groundhog Day” and “Scream” — is rarely going to have the quality of either, and “Happy Death Day” is no exception. Even so, its premise is one that at least makes you want to keep watching, whether out of enjoyment or spite.
No doubt, when it comes to DVD, there will be some fervent fans who want to watch it again.