Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Many Deaths of Tree: Happy Death Day (2017)

Happy Death Day (2017)
Rating: ***
Starring:  Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine

From what I can tell, you can love, hate or "eh" Happy Death Day and its little idea of crossing Bill Murray's Groundhog Day with a PG-13 slasher. For a completist like me, it's concept of a "time loop" slasher isn't relatively new looking back at movies like The Slayer (1982) (sort-of), Camp Daze (2004) (AKA "It that shall not be uttered"), Salvage (2006), Timecrimes (2007) and the criminally underrated Triangle (2009) and I should felt "meh" about it for this reason alone, but I found other things to enjoy about this time-travel bodycounter to warrant it as a good watch.

The film starts with our heroine, local sorority brat Tree Gelbman (yes, "Tree") waking up with a nasty hangover in the dorm room of one of the nicer guys at Bayfield College before walking the walk of shame all the way back to her own dorm while being a snob to most people including her ex, her dad, her roomie, and the sorority house president. (Though the latter could be justified) Her whole morning is nothing but a long wait until evening comes and she's out to party again, only this time, Tree encounters a hooded figure in a grotesquely cartoonish baby mask and gets the foul end of a knife.

Tree then wakes up from the event, alive and well, and starts her usual morning while a bit disturbed from what she assumes is a dream. The day goes the same, a bit too the same that Tree gets a nagging feeling she went through this before, so much so that on her way to the same tunnel she got killed at in her nightmare, she has the urge to take another route. This time, returning to the sorority house, Tree gets a surprise party thrown by her campus sisters and was about to go down and dirty with a random guy when, much to her horror, the same baby-faced killer appears to do her (and random guy) dead. Just as Baby Face plunges a broken bong down into her, Tree screams...

And wakes up alive and well. In the beginning of the very same day.

By now, Tree (and us, the audience) figures out that she's in a time loop that restarts whenever she bites the big one. Why is she in this situation? Nobody knows, but it is made very clear that someone out there hates her enough to stab her, drown her, brain her, hang her, pretty just do anything that'll make her stop breathing and existing. Worse even is the fact that Tree gets more and more frail in each loop, so it's only a matter of time before Baby Face finishes her off for good.

Seeing this is a PG-13 offering from Blumhouse Productions, I can't say it does a lot as a slasher flick, or even a horror movie for that matter with the murders, while nicely set up, dry around the blood and gore department and the killer coming out more funny looking than threatening after the first time around they're seen skulking in the shadows. It's general direction focuses more as a mystery, however. One that centers around an odd phenomenon that itself centers on one random girl who just happens to be one of the big jerks at campus. Is it silly? Yes, but that's one of  Happy Death Day's charms that gradually saved this from being a one-trick pony.

Being one part comedy meant it has to deliver some laughs and the writing here, thankfully, works quite well on the funny factor. It's not "choking-on-own-spit" level of haha, mind you, and some of the jokes here can be a hit-or-miss, but I find most of them hitting my funny bone more than once, loving the snarkiness of it all, the satirical stab on the slasher sub-genre (I mean, how often do we get to root for the nasty ones to survive in these films? Apart from Jessica from Sorority Row (2009), that is...) and even some meta-humor about the oddity our lead is going through.

And speaking of lead, Jessica Rothe is simply great as Tree. She wonderfully handles her character's transformation from a nasty type to a hardass survivor of her own death(s) with much wit and gusto, and it is worth noticing how the tone and pacing of the film slowly changes along the further Tree evolves in each cycle, bringing out layers upon layers of depth and reason as to why she's like this. With this dimensions come some sentimental moments, gladly far from overly dramatic and it realistically help flesh the more human side of what could have been another body for the bodycount, another reason why Happy Death Day is such a fun watch.

As a whodunit (of the stranger kind), Happy Death Day has a fairly wide range of possible red herrings and twists seeing it'll be a lot easier to tell who wouldn't want to kill Tree. And for a while, the movie embraces the sheer silliness of this idea with Tree basically tackling and attacking anyone she suspects will be her killer before she comes to the realization that she needs to think this through and, well, not make herself too convenient for a masked maniac to stick a knife into. The implied time limit also gave this angle a sense of urgency for the characters and it's around the last third of the film when most of the good albeit predictable curve balls were thrown, with a reveal that I at least didn't expect.

In the end, Happy Death Day is just a fun teen flick, may it be as a comedy, a murder mystery and/or a teen slasher. It's ideas are far from original but at least the film had fun with the concept and even gave us some warm life lessons along the way. Rewatchable? Maybe. But if you haven't seen it yet, I urge you to try it if you can!

1 female knifed
1 male knifed to death
1 female stabbed with a broken bong
1 female impaled with a knife
1 female knifed in the gut
1 female drowned
2 females hit by a bus
1 female brained with a bat
1 female brained with a bat
1 male repeatedly knifed
1 male hit by a car
1 female immolated in a car explosion
1 male found murdered
1 female shot
1 male had his neck broken
1 female hanged
1 male shot dead
1 female poisoned
1 female falls to her death
Total: 20...ish

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