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Happy Death Day

A murdered college student is forced to relive the gruesome day of her demise in Christopher Landon's waggish and sprightly slasher, which splices uproarious comedy Groundhog Day with self-referential teen horror Scream. Gore frequently trumps giggles during Happy Death Day but the tantalising dramatic conceit of a distraught heroine stuck in a tragic groove provides screenwriter Scott Lobdell with a rich seam of black humour and female empowerment. He relishes killing off his central character in myriad grisly scenarios, including a farcical montage of slaughter set to a jaunty pop soundtrack. With each knife to the stomach or broken glass to the throat, the victim undergoes a gradual transformation from an unsympathetic, self-absorbed, emotionally cold vixen to a painfully self-aware, humbled young woman we can root for. Jessica Rothe runs a gamut of emotions in the central role. There is a pleasing contrast between her uptight sorority snob, who is desperate to fit in, and her liberated trailblazer, who walks naked across campus or opens her heart about her mother's battle with breast cancer because no one will remember her tears when time resets. Her narrative arc includes a gently simmering romance with a nice guy, whose unabashed sweetness and sensitivity would typically be a blood red flag for the horror genre. Tree Gelbman (Rothe) wakes bleary-eyed in the dorm room of nerd Carter Davis (Israel Broussard), nursing a pounding headache from the alcohol-sodden night before. She takes the walk of shame back to her sorority house, offending several students en route including creepy first date Tim (Caleb Spillyards), before clashing briefly with Danielle (Rachel Matthews), the imperious queen bee of Kappa Kappa Gamma. Roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) surprises Tree with a cupcake for her birthday and the hungover heroine cruelly dumps the freshly baked gift in the bin. "Sorry, too many carbs," she snaps. Tree subsequently enjoys a rendezvous with her married lover (Charles Aitken) and is almost caught in the act by his suspicious wife (Laura Clifton). She also dodges telephone calls from her father (Jason Bayle). As night falls, a masked assailant stabs Tree to death and she wakes in Carter's bed, doomed to repeat her final day, over and over. "I'm not a good person. Maybe this is karma, maybe I deserve this..." she sobs to Carter, who suggests Tree should exploit her predicament to discover the identity of her killer. Happy Death Day sensibly avoids a ham-fisted explanation for Tree's terrifying time loop and simply asks us to suspend disbelief in exchange for vicarious thrills. Rothe looks luminous as she is being throttled and impaled, and supporting cast provide a motley crew of potential suspects. Pacing remains brisk so there's little time to dwell on plot holes and inconsistencies. Gently embrace the madness.