Monday, October 16, 2017

Happy Death Day

Happy coincidence: I just finished fleshing out my review of A Day from Fantasia a couple weeks ago (catch up here!), so it's kind of fresh in my mind as I write up another time-loop horror, this one played much funnier even if it does hit a few of the same themes. I like this one a whole lot more, and a bit more than I thought I would, despite despite liking the trailer more than a lot of the ones for youth-oriented horror I tend to roll my eyes at. That's pretty impressive, because I wasn't terribly fond of director Christopher Landon's previous film (The Scouts Guide to the Apocalypse) nor the comic-book work of writer Scott Lobdell (a guy who always seemed to have the least interesting runs on the books he picked up).

It does give me a real appreciation for how well they rearranged the typical slasher/mystery plot, though. Most successful slashers get any initial whodunit impulses smothered by sequels, with Scream probably the most notable exception - it actually leaned harder on the murder mystery with the follow-ups even as it was talking about horror movie tropes, with resurrection off the table. It's a really great way of changing things up, though, as despite the supernatural elements, this really becomes "who wants to kill Tree bad enough to actually go through with it" rather than "what awful secret do all these people share" while still giving the audience plenty of kills. It's a clever-enough way to get the two genres in line that it will be hard to repeat.

Of course, Blumhouse probably will try to repeat it, and I've kind of got no idea how that works. Sure, resurrection is a part of the premise, but it's not a mystery if you bring the same Babyface back and I don't think it needs the complication. Sure, you could just do the same thing again with new characters, but I'd hate to lose Jessica Rothe (either as an early-movie kill or as not present because there's a new cast). But, then, I didn't really figure this would work, so I'm willing to be surprised.

Happy Death Day

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 October 2017 in AMC Stonebriar #16 (first-run, DCP)

There's an old-man part of me that is inclined to grumble about how Happy Death Day never really spends a whole lot of time on the whys of its time-loop plot, chalking it up to kids raised on video games just taking the idea of multiple lives for granted (at least, until realizing that the people actually making the movie are a generation older and grew up playing the same Atari 2600s I did). That's the part of this particular movie the audience has to just go with, but when you put that aside, there's still a fun scary movie underneath, one that arguably hides its clever construction well enough to come off as enjoyably dumb fun.

The girl stuck in the loop is Teresa "Tree" Gelbman (Jessica Rothe), a sorority brat who wakes up the morning of her birthday in the dorm room - dorm room! - of Carter Davis (Israel Broussard), though she can't remember much of the previous night, although both Carter and sorority sister Danielle (Rachel Matthews) make it clear she was even more drunkenly out of hand than usual, flirting with Danielle's boyfriend Nick (Blaine Kern III). She blows off her father's phone calls, tells a guy she went on one date with (Caleb Spillyards) to buzz off, and tosses the cupcake her fellow pre-med roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) baked for her in the trash. All this makes her late for class, but she's sleeping with teacher Gregory Butler (Charles Aitken), an MD who also practices at the local hospital. She's still got time for a couple more displays of random bitchiness before being attacked by a guy wearing the mask of her college's creepy baby mascot on the way to a party and winding up dead. Fortunately for her, the day resets, although it will take a few iterations for her to realize it's not just a really scary form of deja vu.

Happy Death Day has done well enough at the box office that, if a sequel isn't already being planned, it will be hard to resist, but such a movie will have difficulty tapping into what makes this one work: Writer Scott Lobdell seems to spot how a lot of slasher movies are, at their heart, whodunits where the potential victims must figure out who is behind the mask, but how this kind of doesn't work that well because you need a motive for the murderer to kill a lot of people, which makes for an unsatisfying murder mystery ("he's nuts" only goes so far and "they all deserve it" isn't much better). Letting "Babyface" knock Tree off again and again gives the audience the fun multiple kills of a slasher movie while keeping the mystery angle fairly focused on Tree.

Full review on EFC.

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