A familiar concept that is freshened up with an interesting and entertaining story and a knockout performance by lead Jessica Rothe.
Plot: A shallow college girl (Jessica Rothe) begins to experience the same day repeatedly, dying before the day ends at the hands of a killer wearing a baby mask.
Review: Movies and television shows where the same day loops over and over again is a familiar concept. Groundhog Day is perhaps the most famous of these stories, but I swear every television show in existence, if it’s run any length of time, has taken a crack at the concept at some point.
That’s why I didn’t run out and watch Happy Death Day when it was first released. It seemed like something I’d already seen before. When the trailer for the sequel revealed who the killer was in part 1 (!!!!!!), I pushed it back even further as the mystery was gone. I finally sat down to watch it recently, and let me say, I wish I had seen it earlier. What feels like a familiar concept that could just copy the formula from another source decides to change things up and makes what may feel old, new again.
The story is clever. They could just hide behind the looping gimmick, but they throw some honest-to-gosh character development into it. The main character starts out entirely unlikeable and unsympathetic. You don’t mind she’s being tortured because, quite frankly, she seems to deserve it. Gradually, her character turns, and it doesn’t feel contrived, nor does her burgeoning romance with Carter feel forced. A twist is also thrown in, which ups the stakes and makes what could be a meandering storyline meaningful.
Jessica Rothe, as Tree, is terrific in the movie. She reminds me a lot of Rachel McAdams, but she completely owns this film, and her presence is undeniable. Israel Broussard, as Carter, comes across with the humble likeability that instantly makes us identify with his character. He is the anchor for the film when Tree is doing her mean-girl antics. Rachel Matthews is a treat as the vapid yet wildly entertaining Danielle, the perfect caricature of the self-obsessed sorority girl. Ruby Modine is quietly sympathetic as Tree’s long-suffering roommate, Lori.
I wouldn’t say the movie is shot particularly memorably, but at least you can see everything, and the lighting and cinematography are serviceable. Likewise, the soundtrack is fine, but damn if I can hum the tune in my head. This movie is all about the story and the characters, and the trappings of everything else is only there to serve those two elements. Even the killer, wearing a baby mask, isn’t iconic to me, though I could see some people being freaked out by the mask.
Overall, I recommend this film. It’s entertaining and intelligent, and Rothe’s performance is worth the price of admission alone. If you’re turned off by the same tired concept, I urge you to bat your biases aside and give this one a peek – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.