Happy Death Day

October 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine
Directed by: Christopher Landon (“Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones,” “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse”)
Written by: Scott Lobdell (“Man of the House”)

For a self-aware slasher movie that features the main character reliving the same day over and over again after being brutally murdered by a mask-wearing killer, “Happy Death Day” takes too goddamn long to point out just how similar the whole endeavor is to the modern classic “Groundhog Day,” saving it for the epilogue. If this were a “Scream” movie, the Jamie Kennedy archetype would have connected the dots on that shit in the second act.

In spite of that egregious pop culture reference oversight, “Happy Death Day” manages to become a clever-enough horror movie that could have been truly great given another shot of creativity and the freedom of an R-rating.

The film begins (many times) with Tree (Jessica Rothe) waking up on her birthday with a nasty hangover in an unknown guy’s dorm room. Turns out he’s a nice guy named Carter (Israel Broussard) and she went home with him last night. Being a super mean sorority bitch, Tree orders him to never tell anyone what happened, and she begins her walk of shame through campus and back to her sorority house, encountering a leering goth, an environmental protester, and a guy she ghosted. As she rolls in, her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) offers her a homemade cupcake for her birthday—which Tree ruthlessly chunks into the garbage. Later she meets with a professor she’s having an affair with, nearly getting caught by his wife, and ignores multiple phone calls from her dad. By the time she’s going out alone for a party, her path takes her down a dimly-lit alleyway, where she’s stabbed to death by a killer wearing a mask of a toothy baby.

And then, just like that, she wakes up in Carter’s dorm again, forced to repeat the same day until she’s able to find her killer, all the while becoming a somewhat better person.

“Happy Death Day” shines when the film decides to have fun and go for laughs, which happens often—but not quite enough. Rothe turns in a wickedly bitchy performance that, again, could have been a gleefully campy classic had the studio chosen to shoot for an R-rating, throwing in more gore and some variety to its kills, a la “Edge of Tomorrow.” And though the movie doesn’t wear out its welcome at 96 minutes, some elaboration wouldn’t hurt, as several premises introduced during the movie—Tree’s mother’s death, that every time she comes back to life she carries internal physical scars from the kills—are introduced with little to no payoff. “Happy Death Day” works way more than it doesn’t, but maybe one, like with Tree, more go ‘round could have sharpened things up.

Paranormal Activity 4

October 19, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Stephen Dunham
Directed by: Henry Joost (“Paranormal Activity 3”) and Ariel Schulman (“Paranormal Activity 3”)
Written by: Christopher Landon (“Paranormal Activity 3”)

There’s not much paranormal activity in Paranormal Activity 4. As a matter of fact, there’s not much of anything in this most recent installment that is as frightening or interesting as the three previous movies. Since the original debuted in 2007, those three have collectively grossed close to half a billion dollars worldwide, which is basically the reason audiences are getting a fourth and upcoming fifth film. Unfortunately, PA4 breaks apart the consistently eerie tone of the trilogy that came before it. Sure, there are a few creaking doors and camera tricks, but the gimmick has run its course.

That’s not to say describing the franchise as “gimmicky” is necessarily a bad thing. The first movie used the found-footage-meets-ghost-story tactic and made it original. The second movie, which was actually a prequel to the first, tied both stories together well and offered some comparable jolts. And the third, which was a prequel to the prequel, received a fresh and effective take from directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Catfish), who now return for PA4.

If put in chronological order, PA4 would be the first official sequel to the series since it comes after the events of the original movie. Katie (Katie Featherson) has just murdered her husband, sister and brother-in-law and walked out of their home with her baby nephew Hunter. Five years later, Katie is living in a new suburban neighborhood with an odd, young boy named Robbie (Brady Allen). Across the street from them, 15-year-old Alex (Kathryn Newton) begins to experience strange things when her parents agree to babysit Robbie for a few days.

Besides using laptop webcams and an Xbox Kinect instead of traditional video cameras or surveillance equipment, PA4 doesn’t seem interested in offering anything new or building on an already well-established mythology. Instead, it tosses out logic and takes the easy route by making a creepy kid with an imaginary friend the focus instead of an evil entity. A demon hovering over your bed is one thing. A snot-nosed kid is another.