In an era when seemingly every mainstream horror film that comes out carries a tonally heavy supernatural bent, "Happy Death Day" returns a blessed sense of macabre throwback playfulness to the genre. If 1993's romantic comedy "Groundhog Day" had featured a psychopathic killer murdering Bill Murray at the end of each repeating day, it might have looked a whole lot like this. It's to the credit of director Christopher Landon (2014's "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones") and screenwriter Scott Lobdell that they are well aware of this inevitable comparison, and then let loose to have their own darkly comic way with the conceit. Even when logic doesn't always hold up to close scrutiny, it is never less than a genuinely beguiling entertainment—not necessarily scary but certainly atmospheric, tense, funny, and emotionally honest. It's been a long time since multiplex screens have seen a slasher-mystery with the '90s flair of "Scream," "I Know What You Did Last Summer," and "Urban Legend," and this one's got it.
Bayfield University sorority sister Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) isn't a particularly warm or selfless person, and her already-prickly attitude becomes just a little more prickly when she wakes up on her birthday, after a night of heavy drinking, in the dorm room of virtual stranger Carter Davis (Israel Broussard). Attempting to go about the rest of her day is easier said than done, especially when her evening culminates in her own death at the knife-wielding hand of a killer wearing the school's smiley-faced mascot mask. Suddenly, Tree wakes back up in Carter's bed, and her birthday has reset itself. Feelings of serious déjà vu become something more as the same day begins to replay, once again ending with a deadly attack. And then, again, Tree wakes up in the same, slightly less strange dorm room. Hoping to circumvent her fate and live to finally see the next day, she sets about trying to figure out who her killer is. Almost as bad as constantly dying is the reality check with which she is faced: experiencing the same day over and over places a magnifying glass on the person she has become, and she doesn't like what she sees.
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