As I start writing today's entry, I'm not sure if I'm going to watch Ice Castles one more time. I've got a 48-hour rental, so I could watch it a third time, really boil down what it taught me when I was a kid, but it's mostly going to be something simple and cheesy... like It taught me about perseverance and love and the importance of having people around you. Obvious crap like that. One thing it didn't teach me was that being blind is fine because you can get right back up and... skate. Again. I don't skate. Not only was that never my calling, I rarely roller skated, and often did it wrong, and have only ice skated like twice ever. But, that's beside the point. My calling when I was young (not as young as where I still am with this deconstruction thing. Older, able to have dreams about what I wanted to do with my life.) was writing, then filmmaking. I could write without my sight, I suppose. But, filmmaking... And, more importantly, filmwatching--this ain't happening without eyesight. That shit is still scary. Plus, you fall down because of a few stupid flowers.
But, more important than any of that, after a weekend of being ill, my first weekend in a while with no movies in the theater (and there were like four I wanted to see), I managed to get to the theater before class today, and I saw none other than Happy Death Day. In case you aren't familiar, it's a horror film built on a time loop, and it was actually rather awesome.
Now, as the author of The Groundhog Day Project, I felt obligated to see it simply because it was a time loop movie. And, as a lover of horror films, I had to see it for that reason as well. But, I was rather pleased with it and glad to have seen it. So much that, while I don't normally review movies... Except for that stint of YouTube reviews last spring and summer, or my two different movie review blogs that fizzled. Except for those, obviously. Reviewing films, is not really my thing. But, I wanted to review this one, because it deserves better than the 6.5 it's got on IMDb right now... And I just checked Box Office Mojo and saw it was #1 this weekend. This is how out of touch I was this weekend. I didn't even realize the film was doing well. Not as high as Blade Runner 2049's #1 debut last weekend, but beating that film for this weekend by $11 million. (Happy Death Day made $26 million, Blade Runner 2049 (which I saw opening day, of course) made $15 million, and The Foreigner (which I want to see) made $13 million. It (which I saw opening day last month) in its 6th week made $6 million.) But, the thing is, the movie works.
It's better than it should be. Even when it--I'll get to SPOILERS farther down, actually. It manages all the basics of the time loop film. Easy markers (many of which you see in the trailer) to make the first resumption obvious to us and to Tree (Jessica Rothe), and to make clear predictions easy for her when she starts to get into the adolescent phase of the loop. It's got the central moral character in question thing going like Groundhog Day--Tree is an awful person at movie's start, so bad actually--she's disgusted at her own apparent hookup with a guy she didn't know, she's kind of a bitch to everyone she passes on the way back to her sorority, she insults an ex who is a little clingy rather than actually talk to him, she is dismissive of her roommate, she ignores her father's phone calls (when it is her birthday and we're aware pretty early on that her mother has died recently), and she is sleeping with a married professor--that when she has to come up with a list of who might be killing her on each of these resumptions, the list is not that short, especially considering she's just a college student, not some secret agent or public figure. And, she has to be a better person, and almost inadvertently becomes a better person just by having to face her every choice again and again and again, even separate from facing her own mortality again and again and again.
And, that's where the review gets sidetracked for a bit, because that's the thing, isn't it? When life is just the same thing again and again--and really, anything can become mundane if it is the same ol', same ol', day in, day out--that's when the details come into focus, when the backbone of it all comes into focus, when you get a real idea of what you're about. Especially the choices. I mean, when you've got a job that repeats every day, maybe keeping that job doesn't feel like a choice, because you've gotta have a job, you've gotta have money to live, to eat, to drink, to be entertained, to have the time to be loved. Capitalism is a bitch, but he's a persistent bitch. But, what do you do after work? What do you have for lunch? Who do you eat with? Who do you talk with? Who do you spend time with when off work? What hobbies do you take up? What tv shows do you watch? What movies do you see? What sports do you follow? What are your politics? Your religion? Your favorite color? Your favorite food? What do you wear? How do you do your hair? All these choices and more, and each one comes into focus the more the other stuff repeats and repeats.
Like my life right now. Sundays are for D&D, I've got classes in the afternoons, Monday through Thursday. I take my daughter to gymnastics on Tuesday nights. I watch Critical Role Thursday nights. I see a new movie Friday morning. And, I fill in the gaps with tv shows--right now far too many of them because the new fall shows just got started and I love sampling--and more new movies, and, of course, there are old movies every day, and writing this blog, and as long as the fixtures are enjoyable, the varying details are easier to enjoy, too. I paint a lot of miniatures lately. I prep stuff for DMing. And, when I'm not sick--right now, it feels like I've been sick forever, while it's actually been a weird off and on thing over the past two weeks, and it feels like it's almost gone--I make dinner some of the time--five of us in the apartment, all with different schedules, so other's make dinner too, and sometimes we just fend for ourselves when our schedules aren't even close...
But at least no one is killing me every night. And there, by the way, is something that makes Happy Death Day unique from other time loop movies (or tv shows), even the ones where people get killed; it's like a physical version of what the Lois & Clark time loop had with bits of the loop becoming memorable to not just Clark but others as well. Actually, that might not be the best explanation. Tree retains scar tissue, and feels the physical pain of her deaths when she wakes up. She tells Carter (Israel Broussard)--
(who is basically her Rita, except he's pretty easy to convince and the film doesn't have time for a date night sequence because he's the one who gets her going after the people on her suspect lists (which actually gets pretty comical))
--that she's getting weaker on each resumption, and shes' not sure how long she can keep doing this. Unlike Phil Connors, Tree Gelbman has no infinity in front of her. But, it doesn't take infinity to change, when you are forced to face yourself. Either you ignore what you see and keep blindly trudging on--which unfortunately is what a lot of people do--or you make the choices you've got to make to fix whatever's wrong, or to try to make up for whatever stupid choices you've made before. And you find new fixtures in your life. Tree finds Carter. Tree starts defending one of her sorority sisters who dares eat junk food and drink chocolate milk. She tries to help that ex; because of the timeframe, we cannot really know how successful that is...
Actually, I must get into SPOILERS here, even though this is a minor one--that her helping that ex, or standing up for that sorority sister never really happens because, well... That good deed day she gets like Phil's last day in his time loop--that isn't her last resumption because she makes a mistake. And, here come some big SPOILERS. See, the movie has done something that at first seems like a lame choice. She's been checking the people on her suspect list, ruling each one out, and then the film introduces an actual killer, a guy who is in the hospital attached to the campus after a shooting in prison. And he escapes. She immediately thinks he's the killer. I jump to the conclusion that her mother was one of his prior victims and that's why the connection is so immediate, but they never make that clear and when they show his victims on the tv, her mother's face might be there, but it's in the theater and I can't pause or rewind, and the movie has actually only shown us her mother briefly. In fact, as the movie was going, I was actually finding some parts of it problematic (but it makes up for those parts, especially if her mother is one of this guy' sprint victims). The first big problematic thing is that the sidestory with the dead mother and Tree ignoring her father's calls seems arbitrary--reminding me of the tacked-on backstory in last year's The Shallows, a little extratopical (to drift into debate lingo for a moment). When she eventually does show up for dinner with her dad, it's a nice emotional moment in the film, and it makes up for the arbitrariness of it a bit. (The failure of that good deed day to be the last resumption means that never happened, but one could suppose that Tree will manage something similar the next time.)
The next big problematic thing comes in two parts--first, they introduce this killer who was briefly seen, but ignored, on a news report earlier and it feels like a cheat; he's a new character, unrelated, not someone we got to see Tree interact with on Day One. And, unlike the baby-masked killer on all the previous resumptions, as soon as Tree knows it's this guy Joseph Tombs (Rob Mello), he not only takes the mask off, but starts talking. This introduces an extra element, potentially. For him to have reason to unmask right then, and no longer be silently creepy, he has to be experiencing the time loop, too. Otherwise, why change tactics on this particular day. And, this is interesting. A time loop cat and mouse game, with both parties learning from each resumption. But, he isn't. And, it feels like suddenly the film has different writers. But, then this brings us to the second part of this problem. He's a red herring. A weirdly clever one because his inclusion felt so much like an easy way out cheat. And Tree kills him. (Almost for the second time; she had previously gone after him, but Carter gets involved and is killed, so Tree lets the loop reset to save him.) The best bit of her killing Tombs is that she uses a late loop marker--a brief blackout--to do it. But there's a hitch...
And maybe I won't SPOIL the ending.
I will skip past it for one more thing that made me really like Happy Death Day--it directly references Groundhog Day, and rather amusingly because millennial Tree has apparently never heard of it or Bill Murray or even Ghostbusters. But Carter makes the comparison, indicating that, unlike Rita, he knows about the time loop after the fact.
I did turn on Ice Castles, by the way. Lexie just asked Nick to come see her. He said he can't. He's going to end up going anyway, and that scene was going to be a big thing I was going to talk about today, how so much of Ice Castles depends on showing us characters reacting to Lexie rather than assume that we're impressed with her. Nick's watery-eyed stare at how good she is, and the betrayal immediately thereafter when he sees her kiss Brian--that is a fantastic emotional beat, and it almost doesn't need any dialogue at all. That's great filmmaking.
But, Happy Death Day.
Actually, in terms of filmmaking, Happy Death Day uses frequent close ups on Tree to really make her emotional changes and reactions hit home. And, Jessica Rothe--who aside from a small part in La La Land, I hadn't seen her in anything before--has the charisma to carry the film, and the acting chops to convey he requisite confusion and horror, and to be both the bitch she is early in the film and the more caring young woman she becomes, as well as the badass who puts a knife to a security guard's throat because's he's the easiest place to get a gun. Her relationship with Carter is cute, but not the teenager cute of Lexie and Nick in ice Castles, and the two actors have chemistry to make it work. He's not so much the dick that Rita Hansen is; that helps.
Ice Castles is nice. And, this deconstruction thing is fun. But, getting to ramble about a new movie--that's pretty fun too.