Here’s a simple — and potentially chilling — concept: What if someone remade “Groundhog Day,” in which a TV weatherman relives the same day over and over, as a horror movie? Director Christopher Landon (“Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones”) and writer Scott Lobdell (of TV’s “X-Men” series) have done just that, paying fond homage to Harold Ramis’s 1993 comedy classic with a tale of a college student who must go through the day she’s murdered, again and again. Sadly, “Happy Death Day” proves that the clever notion is ill-suited to horror.
Set at a fictional Louisiana university, the movie opens on Tree (Jessica Rothe of “La La Land”), a popular sorority girl who wakes up on her birthday to find that she has spent the night with — gasp — an unpopular boy, whose name she doesn’t even remember (Israel Broussard).
From Tree’s smug, dismissive interactions with fellow students and former bedmates, it’s clear she isn’t a nice person. Later that evening, as students wander around campus wearing masks fashioned after the school’s grotesque infant mascot, a masked, hooded assailant stalks and kills Tree. Just at the moment of death, she wakes up in the boy’s bed, living through the same day, until she is killed by the same attacker.
Slaughter, rinse, repeat.
Like a character in a PG-13 after-school special, Tree comes to see this vicious cycle as an opportunity to become a better person. Unfortunately, while the movie’s cast is not unappealing, Tree’s journey to self-knowledge feels abrupt and unconvincing. What’s more, the cycle makes it impossible to build tension. We already know that Tree is going to die. Details and methods may change, but they aren’t particularly inventive.
With its circular arc of soul-searching and redemption, “Groundhog Day” has become a modern cautionary tale — “A Christmas Carol” for contemporary times that people watch, again and again. By borrowing that same premise, the makers of “Happy Death Day” hope to cash in on the earlier film’s enduring appeal. But this is one movie that no one needs to relive.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains sexual situations, strong language and graphic violence. 96 minutes.