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New horror-comedy film is like Groundhog Day with a twist

Happy Death Day is Hollywood's latest film to run moviegoers in cinematic time circles.

In Happy Death Day, a college student played by Jessica Rothe relives the day of her murder again and again.

Universal Pictures / Supplied

In Happy Death Day, a college student played by Jessica Rothe relives the day of her murder again and again.

Happy Death Day’s advertising tagline sums up the entire plot in eight words. “Get Up. Live Your Day. Get Killed. Again.”

Like Groundhog Day with a terrifying twist, it’s the story of Tree Gelbman, a college student stabbed to death by a masked stranger at her own birthday party. Stuck in the twilight zone, she’s forced to relive the day of her murder again and again. The only way to save her life is to search for clues and solve her own murder. “I’ll keep dying until I figure out who my killer is,” she says.

The unlikely named Tree Gelbman is caught in a time loop, a Hollywood device screenwriters use to play with the linear nature of their plotlines. Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day role, a drunk, suicide-prone weatherman who discovers the beauty of life by living the same day endlessly, may be the granddaddy of all Hollywood déjà vu stories, but many other movie characters have been caught in cinematic time circles.

Run Lola Run sees crimson-haired Lola, played by Franka Potente, on a mission to help her boyfriend avoid a fate worse than death. He’s lost a bag with 100,000 deutschemarks and if he doesn’t find it in 20 minutes terrible things will happen. She rockets through Berlin looking for a solution, but each time she fails to find the loot and the 20-minute time loop starts again. Included in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, the film inspired an episode of The Simpsons and the music video for It’s My Life by Bon Jovi.

Before I Fall is a Young Adult time trip. Zoey Deutch stars as a woman trapped in her worst day ever. Like the time-travelling child of Groundhog Day and Mean Girls (but without Bill Murray or Rachel McAdams), it’s a study of teen angst magnified by a glitch in time. For its young adult audience the wild story raises questions about tolerance, bullying and behaviour.

The horror genre lends itself to time-bending tales as well. Camp Slaughter is a 2005 throwback to the slasher films of the 1980s. In this one, a group of modern teens stumble across Camp Hiawatha, a dangerous place where not-so-happy-campers are trapped in 1981 and forced to re-experience the night a maniacal murderer went on a killing spree. Labelled “Groundhog Day meets Friday the 13th (part 2,3,4,5,6,7,8… every one of them!)” by one critic, it’s gory good fun.

Not into gory? The Yuletide provides a less bloody backdrop for time-looping. The title Christmas Every Day is self-explanatory but 12 Dates of Christmas is better than the name suggests. Us Weekly called this Amy Smart romantic comedy about a woman stuck in an endless Christmas Eve, a sweet “nicely woven journey.”

Finally, the aptly named Repeaters is about a trio of recovering addicts who find themselves in “an impossible time labyrinth” after being electrocuted in a storm. Like most time-bending films, Repeaters is about learning from your mistakes. What sets it apart from some of the others are three unlikeable leads who use their situation to raise hell and break the law. It’s only when Kyle (Dustin Milligan) realizes they could be in big trouble if time suddenly unfreezes for them that familiar time-loop themes of redemption and self-reflection arise.

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