At the end of “Happy Death Day,” the main character (Jessica Rothe) admits to her quasi-boyfriend (Israel Broussard) that she hasn’t seen “Groundhog Day,” which suddenly puts a lot of her actions in a different perspective. It’s not a stretch to think that Jessica, playing a Queen Bee sorority sister, would rather drink Drano than watch something that geeky, but it is hard to believe she’s never read “Before I Fall,” or watched the movie (that came out earlier this year) based on it. In “Before I Fall,” a Queen Bee high schooler is forced to relive a Valentine’s Day-like scenario repeatedly until she figures out how to break the cycle. “Happy Death Day” occurs on Oct. 18 present day, the birthday of Jessica which is also (Spoiler alert) the date of her mother’s death. (Apparently, the lesson for scriptwriters here is to nab an early holiday to structure your movie plot around and release it then as well, lest you be accused of plagiarism.)
Like many horror movie protagonists, Jessica isn’t exactly a rocket scientist when it comes to her figuring out what is going on and why she keeps waking up in Israel’s dorm room again and again, to live yet another day before being murdered by a creepy guy wearing a baby-faced mask. If she was, she might have clued in sooner to the “Perhaps I should be a better person and face my fears honestly,” message, but she doesn’t – at least not for a startlingly long time. Instead, after a couple of replays, she confronts Israel, leaking eyeliner like a demented blonde raccoon, and dumps her problem into his lap. Being the typical nice guy that populates these kinds of movies, Israel cooperates, suggesting Jessica make a list of all potential “suspects,” which include sorority sisters that she’s stolen boyfriends from, the doctor at a local hospital with whom she’s been having an affair, the roommate (Ruby Modine) who only wants to be her best bud, etc. However, this fails, although it does make for a montage where Jessica strolls around campus naked (nothing is shown). So she’s forced to do some more digging into the odd scenarios. Who is that creepy rent-a-cop at the hospital anyway? What does the escaped murderer shown on the news have to do with her killer anyway? And when Jessica finally attempts to play nice, how come that doesn’t work out exactly as hoped?
Jessica starts the movie with plenty of guts, it’s a heart she has to discover within her. This can only be achieved by lots of tries, but unfortunately, Jessica figures out that she only has a certain number before her time is up. So the clock ticks away, while various characters are stabbed, shot at, hung, poisoned, etc., but there’s finally success. “Happy Death Day” is a pretty typical horror movie, though there is humor to be found in spots. At one point, she blurts, “I know I’ve been a bad roommate but…” which prompted several viewers in my theater to burst out laughing. And yes, Ruby is Matthew’s daughter. In his younger days, Matthew was once in a film called “Gross Anatomy” in which he played a cocky doc who needed to learn to be a better person. How time flies.