Happy Death Day movie review

For inSing

HAPPY DEATH DAY 

Director : Christopher Landon
Cast : Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken, Rob Mello, Cariella Smith, Phi Vu
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 96 mins
Opens : 26 October 2017
Rating : PG-13

Live. Die. Repeat. Tom Cruise endured that ordeal in Edge of Tomorrow, and now, so must Jessica Rothe. In this horror thriller, Rothe plays Tree Gelbman, a college student and Kappa sorority girl at Bayfield University. On her birthday, she wakes up in the dorm room of Carter (Israel Broussard), a guy she met at a wild party the night before. That night, Rothe is killed by an assailant wearing a Bayfield Baby mask, the Bayfield Babies being the school’s football team. Tree awakes, gradually realising she is caught in a loop, reliving this same day over and over, repeatedly dying at the hands of the masked killer. Tree must solve her own murder and outsmart the killer to break the cycle and live another day.

Happy Death Day comes from Blumhouse, the production company which specialises in low-budget, high-return horror flicks. Director Christopher Landon has co-written five films in Blumhouse’s Paranormal Activity franchise and directed one. Happy Death Day isn’t very scary, but it’s plenty of fun. This teen-aimed horror flick is surprisingly funny, a hybrid of Scream, Mean Girls and, naturally, Groundhog Day which is efficiently constructed. The time loop time device is tried and tested, but Happy Death Day is sufficiently self-aware, toying with audience expectations and cleverly executing numerous plot twists.

The movie revels in its campiness without coming off as obnoxious, trading heavily on college movie archetypes. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel and has much in common with the teen slashers that were popular in the 90s-early 2000s, but it isn’t derivative in a dull way. Screenwriter Scott Lobdell is best known as a comic book writer, having worked on several X-Men books and Teen Titans. There’s a sly wit to the script and some of the dialogue is genuinely hilarious. It turns out that Happy Death Day has been floating around Hollywood for a while – back in 2007, when it was known as ‘Half to Death’, the project was set up at Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production house and set to star Megan Fox.

While the film doesn’t provide a satisfactory explanation for the time loop, it resorts to neither a howl-worthy cop-out or shameless sequel-begging. The set-pieces aren’t particularly inspired, and this reviewer would have preferred Tree’s deaths to be a little more elaborate and staged with more panache.

Rothe displays astute comic timing and is a fun leading lady to watch. Tree is not the nicest person in the world, and is self-centred and shallow. Much like Bill Murray’s Phil Connors character in Groundhog Day, Tree must gradually learn to be a better person. Unlike Phil Connors, getting brutally murdered is part of the deal. Many horror films suffer from unlikeable protagonists that are difficult to root for, but while Tree starts off that way, there’s a satisfying arc that her character undergoes.

Broussard plays the sweet guy who helps Tree parse her mind-bending situation, and is quite charming in the role. Rachel Matthews visibly enjoys playing the insufferable sorority president Danielle. It’s highly unlikely you’ll have heard of any of the actors in this film, but that’s part of what makes it cheap to make.

Like a birthday cake laced with a bit of booze, Happy Death Day is a delightful confection with a kick. It’s silly, but is carried by enough knowing wit that it’s easy to enjoy.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Good Kids

For F*** Magazine

GOOD KIDS

Director : Chris McCoy
Cast : Nicholas Braun, Zoey Deutch, Israel Broussard, Mateo Arias, Demian Bichir, David Coussins, Virginia Gardner, Tasie Lawrence, Ashley Judd
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 86 mins
Opens : 6 October 2016
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scenes)

good-kids-posterWe’ve all seen that triangle diagram: the three corners are labelled ‘good grades’, ‘social life’ and ‘enough sleep’, and the centre of the triangle bears the imperative ‘choose two’. This comedy revolves around a group of friends who have devoted their whole lives to being well-behaved, academically successful students. It’s the summer before they each leave for prestigious colleges, and Andy (Braun), Nora (Deutch), Spice (Broussard) and The Lion (Arias) make a pact to enjoy all they’ve been missing out on. Andy begins having sex with Gabby (Judd) and the other wealthy married woman who patronises the country club where he is a tennis coach; Nora starts a relationship with Erland (Coussins), her colleague at an aquarium lab; The Lion partakes in a variety of drugs; and Spice goes off in search of ‘sexual release’. In the meantime, Andy continues communicating with a girl from India he’s met online who may or may not actually exist, while he attempts to come to terms with the feelings he’s had for Nora all this while.

Good Kids is written and directed by Chris McCoy, who makes his feature-film debut here. The screenplay landed on the 2011 Black List of most-liked scripts making the rounds in Hollywood. Sure, there have been plenty of Black List scripts that were turned into bad movies, but this case seems particularly puzzling, because there’s nothing special about Good Kids at all. It seems to be the product of typing the command ‘write teen sex comedy’ into some automated screenwriting program. The jokes are tired and mostly unfunny and the characters are all very recognisable archetypes and largely difficult to sympathise with. Beyond that, the underlying attitudes are retrograde, with the veneer of raunchiness serving to obfuscate its lack of originality.

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Braun’s lankiness is often remarked upon, and his gangly proportions do lend themselves to an awkward nerd character. Alas, he’s trying way too hard to come off as awkward, with the results bordering on obnoxious. The character’s sudden success with the ladies and the large amounts of sex he winds up having smack of cheap wish-fulfilment, and when it comes down to it, Andy isn’t even all that endearing. Arias is the generic stoner while Broussard doesn’t get all that much to do, getting the least screen time of the four main characters. It’s kind of weird to see Oscar nominee Demian Bichir in an over-the-top appearance as Andy’s boss Yaco, while Judd seems to be having a degree of fun in full vampy cougar mode.

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Deutch is the best thing about Good Kids by a mile. She has emerged as an elegant presence with fine comic sensibilities and a keen wit. She also seems intent on making a name for herself despite having somewhat famous parents to fall back on, appearing in no less than seven films being released in 2016. Her radiance is an appealing complement to the film’s sun-kissed, idyllic coastal Massachusetts setting.

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Good Kids is produced by Paul and Chris Weitz of American Pie fame, and it does come off like the reheated leftovers of that and any number of teen sex comedy flicks. Unlike American Pie, Good Kids won’t spawn any catchphrases or enter the pop culture lexicon. There’s plenty to say about millennials experiencing pre-college anxiety and getting caught in between the paper chase and revelling in youthful indiscretions, none of which Good Kids mines. The locale in which the story is set means it’s often quite pretty to look at, but the predictable plot trajectory and uninspired humour make it a bit of a chore to sit through, even given its lean 86-minute runtime.

Summary: Drugs? Check. Booze? Check. Sex? Check. Originality, humour or warmth? Look elsewhere.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong