Happy Death Day begins with a universal disruption. Not the world suffering a catastrophe or anything of that sort, but the actual Universal logo repeating itself three times. It’s a signal of events to come in this horror version of Groundhog Day from the Blumhouse studio, which specializes in bargain basement budgeted genre pics.
The world as a whole may not be experiencing a crisis, but college student Tree (Jessica Rothe) sure is. Her birthday begins as many do for undergraduates. She wakes up in the dorm room of Carter (Israel Broussard) after a drunken night out. Not remembering the previous evening’s events, Tree makes a hasty exit complete with shame walking. She attends class where we learn she’s carrying on an affair with her professor. Tree doesn’t really gel with her sorority sisters, including her kindly roommate (Ruby Modine).
In fact, unlike most of the heroines in slasher flicks, Tree is a pretty unpleasant person. And she’s not that innocent. So I’ll give a bit of credit to screenwriter Scott Lobdell for changing that up, even if makes her a smidge tougher to root for. When Tree goes out for another night of frivolity, she’s stalked and stabbed by a figure donning the mask of the university’s mascot.
And then… she wakes up on her birthday again nursing a hangover in Carter’s dorm room. Unlike Bill Murray rising to the sounds of Sonny and Cher, she repeats her day less than 20 times as she tries to figure out who’s knocking her off. Along the way, we learn some of the root causes of her unpleasantness. She’s mourning the loss of her mom for one. That death factors into the mix.
Happy Death Day has a sense of humor, which is often a good thing. Groundhog Day is mentioned as it would seem foolish not to (the title has become synonymous with anything repeating itself). Rothe is convincing as the bratty coed. Director Christopher B. Landon employs a handful of effective jump scares. The 90 minute runtime is a wise choice as the concept may not be able to sustain much more.
This is an easy and brisk watch. The PG-13 rating decision is a curious one and this may have been better served with more of the gore and aforementioned frivolity actually on display. Happy Death Day probably won’t stick in your memory for long, but it’s not a complete disruption of your time.
**1/2 (out of four)