Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken, Jason Bayle, Phi Vu, Donna Duplantier, GiGi Erneta, Rob Mello, Cariella Smith
Written by: Scott Lobdell
Directed by: Christopher Landon
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence/terror, crude sexual content, language, some drug material and partial nudity
Running Time: 96
Date: 10/13/2017

Happy Death Day (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Wake. Stab. Repeat.

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Though it (as well as the recent Before I Fall) obviously borrows from Groundhog Day, this gleefully silly campus-slasher movie has a good spirit, likable characters, and even some good life lessons.

In Happy Death Day -- which opens on Friday the 13th -- Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) wakes up on the morning of her birthday; she's hung over and in a strange dorm room belonging to the helpful Carter (Israel Broussard). She goes about her day, which includes a lunch meeting of her nasty sorority sisters and a closed-doors rendezvous with a married teacher. At night, on her way to a party, a killer in a creepy baby-face mask stabs her.

She wakes up, and it's the same day again; she is reliving the same day, over and over, meeting the killer at the end of each one, and dying. One day, Carter wonders that, if she can discover the killer's identity and save her own life, it could break the cycle. Unfortunately, she begins to feel weaker each morning, as if her "lives" are running out. But then she finds that an escaped killer, Joseph Tombs (Rob Mello), has been lurking nearby.

Director Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) finds just the right tone for Happy Death Day, perhaps taking a cue from his father, Michael Landon's, debut movie I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957). Landon starts with Jessica Rothe's introduction as a self-centered jerk. She's kind of horrible, and not very bright — she certainly has never seen any horror movies and has no idea how to fight off a masked killer — but she's fully human and she grows on you.

When, like Bill Murray, she has time to evaluate her life, she begins to try to set things right, and her attempts are wonderfully endearing. As for the slasher elements, they are not terribly gory or scary; they seem to be in line with the movie's playful tone. But certainly fans of slasher movies will enjoy some of the tropes Landon plays with (in some ways, it's not dissimilar to Scream or The Final Girls).

In short, Happy Death Day is aware of what it's up to, but not in a way that's detrimental to enjoying the story or the characters.

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