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REVIEW: 'Happy Death Day' is the horror thriller version of 'Groundhog Day' you didn't know you wanted

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Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for “Happy Death Day.”

What if “Groundhog Day” was a horror thriller? That’s the question poised by slasher “Happy Death Day,” and for the most part, it’s a concept that works quite effectively.

The movie follows college student Tree (Jessica Rothe) who relives the day she was murdered over and over again until she can find her killer. It also just happens to be her birthday — hence the name of the movie. 

Why you should care: 

“Happy Death Day,” the result of a 10-year journey to the big screen, is from Blumhouse Productions. If you don’t recognize the name, you definitely know their movies. They’re the minds behind hit franchises including “Paranormal Activity,” “The Purge,” and “Insidious.” More recently, they released hits “Split” and “Get Out.”

“Happy Death Day” director Christopher B. Landon has written three of the “Paranormal Activity” sequels and directed a spin-off. 

What’s Hot:

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The most fun part of “Happy Death Day” is trying to figure out Tree’s killer alongside the selfish and narcissistic college student. Most of the characters could be suspects, since Tree starts the movie out as a pretty unlikable sorority girl. 

Maybe others will solve it faster than I did, but I was genuinely spending most of the early parts of the movie searching for clues. And upon a re-watch of the film, you’ll spot that there were some hiding in plain sight early on in the movie.

The film isn’t just a slasher and that’s what gives “Happy Death Day” an edge over some other movies in the genre. After befriending student Carter (Israel Broussard) each day she wakes, his friendship helps Tree become less bratty and self-absorbed. Tree gets a backstory that’s slowly revealed through the film that explains why she hides behind the stuck-up persona. As Tree says in teasers for the film, she starts seeing who she really is when she relives the same day over and over again. 

One stand-out moment is a montage of Tree on a mission to unveil her masked killer, but she gets thwarted each time, sometimes to hilarious effect.

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And in case you’re wondering, yes, the movie does acknowledge the fact that it’s essentially “Groundhog Day,” a reference the movie is all too aware its young audience may not understand. 

What’s Not: 

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Just when you think the movie is over, it has one twist too many which makes the movie fall a bit flat. As you learn how everything is pieced together, the reveal behind the actual killer is disappointingly silly. And that’s a shame, because had the film ended slightly different it would have been more of a believable movie. 

Viewers may be frustrated to discover the movie doesn’t answer the main question you’ll have watching the film: Why is Tree reliving the same day over and over again? If you want the answer, director Christopher B. Landon told INSIDER you’ll have to wait for a potential sequel.

The bottom line: 

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If you’re not a big fan of scary movies, “Happy Death Day” is not going to give you nightmares. It has a few jump scares, but it’s more of a mystery thriller balanced with humor. You may walk out of the theater disappointed by the ultimate reveal, but the journey to getting there is pretty fun.

Bonus points for releasing a thriller on Friday the 13th when some studios don’t take advantage of that date.  

Grade: 

B- 

“Happy Death Day” is in theaters Friday. You can watch a trailer for it below.

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