Groundhog Day was already pretty traumatic when Bill Murray went through it. Widely regarded as one of the greatest comedies of all time, Harold Ramis’ classic went to some pretty dark places. Namely, quite a lot of suicide. Now, imagine Groundhog Day, but with a serial killer. Such is Tree Glebman’s lot in life, forced to relive the day of her murder over and over again, brutally slaughtered by a masked killer night after night. The same night, though.
Horror fans will come for the slasher affectations, but stay for the rest. With a cast of very pretty young things on a bright, poppy American college campus, Happy Death Day is the best Scream pastiche since the late nineties. Thankfully not overdoing it on the meta humour (that Bill Murray movie only gets one mention but it’s in the film’s best gag), the kills are inventive and fun, gnarly but not so traumatic that they’ll undermine the humour or the heart. And it’s that heart that is Happy Death Day’s strongest suit.
The film’s genuinely endearing leads paper over the cracks in the story and slightly rubbish whodunit; Jessica Rothe and Israel Broussard have great chemistry, and it’s a lot of fun watching the pair play variations on the same scene again and again from different emotional angles. As Tree, Rothe has a lot to do and deal with, and even if her Mean-Girl-to-Final-Girl arc never quite rings true, she takes the gamut of emotions in her stride - particularly the all-important sadness and hurt at her character’s centre. There’s a triumphalism to it that’s almost on a par with the mighty cult tearjerker The Final Girls.
And it’s that which sees us through the film’s missteps, such as the shonky manner in which it attempts to induce stakes (each of Tree’s deaths has a lasting effect upon her body, making her weaker every time she ‘respawns’) without it ever really playing into the plot afterwards, or the paper-thin characterisation elsewhere. The writing by Scott Lobdell is solid and his intentions are good, but the gender politics - most notably some interactions between the film’s women - could use some work.
But for many, the whole thing will be one massive bone of contention. Without victim blaming: seriously, how hard is it to not die for 24 hours? Drive out of state! Get on an aeroplane or something! But for others, it will make for great after-cinema discussion - how would you survive your Happy Death Day?
The film has its share of flaws, plot holes (and a terrible villain), but it’s so much fun that these are easily overlooked. For its emotional beats, central performances and sheer bravado, this is a charming little comedy horror number that fans will take great pleasure in playing over and over again.
HAPPY DEATH DAY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: CHRISTOPHER LANDON / SCREENPLAY: SCOTT LOBDELL / STARRING: JESSICA ROTHE, ISRAEL BROUSSARD, RUBY MODINE, CHARLES AITKEN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW