“Happy Death Day” – a movie definitely worth celebrating

Nutshell:  Fun, freaky and sometimes frightening, this movie blends horror and comedy expertly.  Kudos to the director, screenwriter, and the amazing Jessica Rothe as the coed who keeps getting killed.  You won’t find a better multiplex movie to celebrate Friday the 13th.  So what are you waiting for? Grade: A

“Prime vag, OUT!”

Story: Tree Gelbman is a total bitch.  Just hateful.  So when someone kills her on her birthday, it’s no real surprise.  But when she starts re-living that day – and that death – over and over again? Surprise!

Genre I’d Put It In: Wonderfully Twist Free Modern Horror

Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: While it riffs heavy on Groundhog Day and 80s slashers, this one’s wholly original.

Gotta Say: Happy Death Day lives in a world where medical doctors teach undergraduate classes, medical gowns aren’t backless, and colleges have creepy-ass baby mascots. And it’s glorious.

If you haven’t figured it out by this time in this post, I adore this film.  But that wasn’t a given; as with It, I worried that this movie would be a slapdash thing that I’d regret seeing.  But as with It, I was very pleasantly surprised.  In fact, with Happy Death Day, I’m absolutely walking on air.  Because I didn’t think anyone could make a funny, spooky horror movie without digging into Tropeland.

That’s not to say horror tropes aren’t represented here.  But director Christopher Landon (Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) and screenwriter Scott Lobdell (X-Men: Days of Future Past) sure know how to spin ’em.  Things may not be wholly what they seem, but there’s also plenty of all-out guffawing at tropes…that I won’t dig into more because trust me, you’ll want ’em to unfold as you watch.  Landon and Lobdell work together seamlessly, with story and editing moving things along at a brisk pace.  Things slow down from time to time when character development demands, but there’s not an ounce of padding in this baby.

Think Animal House meets Groundhog Day on Friday the 13th.  Toss in shout-outs to Vertigo, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and even a dash of John Hughes, and you’ve got this film.  Sound crazy?  It is.  Crazy good.  Shifting from tongue-in-cheek horror that winks at the audience, and straight-up suspense, Day knows how to work its audience, and expertly does just that.  Clues and red herrings abound as Tree tries to figure out what the hell is going on, and how to stop it.  But without giving too much away, there are hints that she may not have an unlimited number of re-dos at her disposal.  Tree’s character arc – from absolute bitch to carefree to caring – is believable, even in this fairy-tale of a story.

That’s thanks in large part to Jessica Rothe (Mary + Jane) , who you’ve most likely glimpsed as one of Emma Stone’s dancing roommates in La La Land.  Rothe’s ability to portray a girl who slowly becomes self-aware, and then changes for the better is absolutely amazing.  She’s also a kickass comedienne, with great comic timing and a real knack for physical comedy. Rothe pretty much carries the entire film, and does so expertly.  I can’t wait to see more from her.

I’m also looking forward to more from Israel Broussard, who plays Tree’s put-upon one night stand, and Ruby Modine, who plays Tree’s put-upon roommate.  Did I mention Tree starts off as a total jerk?  Yeah.  Oh, and speaking of jerks, Rachel Matthews does a fantastic job as Tree’s frenemy/sorority president Danielle. It’s Matthews’ first role onscreen, but you’d never know it.  So add her to the list of  “looking forward to more” performers in this film.

In fact I’m calling it; years from now Happy Death Day will be known not only as a kickass horror film, but one of those films that had a whole bunch of actors who made it big.  Just a feeling.

 

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