Happy Death Day
It’s neat that 25ish years later, Groundhog Day has become a mini-genre. Zari Tomaz found her place as a Legend of Tomorrow by reliving the destruction of the Waverider over and over in the highly entertaining episode “Here I Go Again;” Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt combined Groundhog Day with alien-fighting action in the best sci-fi movie of the 2010s you didn’t see, Edge of Tomorrow; and Natasha Lyonne used the trope for a funny and moving treatise on connections and toxic relationships in Russian Doll, which you should probably be watching, go ahead, I’ll wait, throw on an episode and I’ll meet you in the next paragraph.
Neat, huh? Trust me, it only ramps up. Good times. Anyhoo, the Groundhog Day variant I’m here to talk about is Happy Death Day, from the kings of low-budget/high-concept horror flicks, Blumhouse. Honestly, I’m amazed that it took until 2017 for anyone to think of making a Groundhog Day horror movie because it has a delightful simplicity… you get multiple kills, multiple methods, creative scenarios, all with one single victim. Teresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) wakes up hungover in a strange boy’s dorm room, on her birthday, then proceeds to be generally terrible to everyone in her orbit until someone in a baby-face mask kills her. At which point she wakes up in that same dorm room, goes through the same day, and gets murdered by the same masked killer. Tree and the guy whose bed she woke up in have to unravel who, exactly, is trying to kill her, given that some magic time-force is the only reason they aren’t succeeding.
And, like Russian Doll, they realize that “being forced to relive the same day” was enough stakes for Groundhog Day, but Happy Death Day needs something more. First of all, unlike Bill Murray, every single day for Tree ends with her violent, painful death, and those deaths are leaving a mark.
Jessica Rothe does great as Tree, charting a course from lovably caustic and mean to just lovable, and is a blast during what Nate from Legends of Tomorrow would call the “fun montage.” They pull off a couple of decent twists, including a solid red herring, they find real emotional catharsis for Tree… which is kind of a ridiculous name but sure… I really only have one note. I wish that, towards the very end, they hadn’t name-dropped Groundhog Day. That… did not work. Don’t lampshade the influence, it begs for comparison. This is why when I write a heist story, I don’t mention Ocean’s 11. I might accidentally name the villain after Andy Garcia’s character, but that’s it.
I was going to also talk about the sequel, but it turns out I’m not as great at “I’ll watch the next one tomorrow” as I could be. If the fact that I’ve been 7/9ths of the way through a Skywalker Saga rewatch for nearly two weeks and dang it I actually liked Rise of Skywalker teaches us anything. Who goes from Phantom Menace to Force Awakens in one day and then just… stops?
Anyway Vol. 2 is redonk long at this point so let’s call it here and maybe we’ll talk Happy Death Day 2 You next time. ‘Cause there will be a next time. We’re gonna be doing this a while longer.
Also the 2020 Comic TV Rankings are a mere two and a half weeks away so BUCKLE UP.