It's no secret that Happy Death Day is a slasher film version of Groundhog Day (1993). Hell, a character in Happy Death Day even mentions the similarities to that Bill Murray comedy. But that doesn't make Happy Death Day a bad rip-off. In fact, it's a wry send-up of early '80s slasher films right down to the silly title. Yes, you had horror titles like New Year's Evil (1980) and Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) on theater marquees back then.
Vapid sorority girl Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) wakes up on her birthday with a hangover and in a guy's dorm room. She quickly makes it across campus (this was filmed at Loyola University in New Orleans) avoiding anyone she deems beneath her. After going to classes and then a sorority meeting, she gets dolled up for a nighttime party. Oh, and on the way there she gets murdered by a killer wearing a baby face mask. Tree then wakes up with a hangover and in the same dorm room of Carter Davis (Israel Broussard)...on the morning of her birthday. Was it all a dream? No, Tree is reliving the same day over and over again. Eventually, she figures that maybe if she can reveal the identity of the killer and prevent her own death then the curse may be broken.
This is directed by Christopher Landon (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) and written by Scott Lobdell (a comic book writer known for Marvel's Uncanny X-Men and Generation X). Suspects and red herrings abound, Happy Death Day has a good central mystery and the film is clever and often very funny with much of the humor at the expense of the “party college” culture. And when it comes to the killer, the filmmakers wisely play it straight and scary.
What really holds Happy Death Day together is lead actress Jessica Rothe (you may remember her as one of Emma Stone's roommates in La La Land). She exudes personality and her performance is right on the money. The character is not likable in the beginning but she has just enough quirkiness to her that keeps you invested. Of course, as the film progresses, you slowly see Tree becoming a good and caring person. Rothe makes it believable, and you end up rooting for her. And the actress has great comedic timing.
Happy Death Day is a welcome horror-comedy surprise.