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Review: Jessica Rothe Goes a Long Way to Make ‘Happy Death Day’ Watchable

Happy Death Day is a weird film. Starting off like a Scream-type slasher, it veers unexpectedly into straight-up comedy early on, complete with a jaunty musical montage of the lead actress getting murdered over and over.

Groundhog Day meets Halloween’ is an interesting pitch, and to its credit the movie keeps the plot relatively twisty. You need to make it through the reasonably dire first act but once that montage hits all bets are off and the tone pings around from horror to comedy to weepy drama and so on.

The film really leans into its influences too, giving Jessica Rothe’s bizarrely-named ‘Tree’ a redemptive arc that you can see coming a mile off (around the first time she calls one of her sorority sisters ‘bitch’). At one point a character literally name-checks the Bill Murray classic, and it’s as awkward as you’d imagine.

If you’ve ever seen a horror film you’ll figure out who the killer is very early on, but Happy Death Day veers down so many unexpected avenues on the way it never feels like a chore. It’s buoyed by an affable performance by Rothe, who is up for whatever silliness the script requires from her, by the end morphing into an admirably kickass ‘final girl’ (all the other girls were her too). Her presence goes a long way to making the film watchable, at least.

There’s also some social commentary inserted in there too, notably anti-fat shaming and talk of embracing ones sexuality. It’s another random element in a film made up of them, but… good on them?

Happy Death Day has enough glimmers of inspiration to hope for good things from the filmmakers next time, and Rothe is fun. It’s a pleasant enough time-waster, but it’s hard to recommend.

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