Happy Death Day is the Groundhog Day of horror films

Should you ever find yourself, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, doomed to live the same 24 hours on repeat for the rest of your life, then what would you change? It’s an absurd question wrapped in an equally absurd premise, but as silly an idea as the time-loop may be, it also reveals the weight—or weightlessness—of every decision that we make. No wonder that it has also become something of a pop culture tradition—even meriting its own Wikipedia page—with movies like this year’s Before I Fall and TV shows like Naked joining in on the fun.

The latest to tackle the trend adds something unique in the way of time-loop twists: murder. The wonderfully campy Happy Death Day premiered this past Friday and stars Jessica Rothe as a privileged, narcissistic sorority sister named Tree, who in order to see tomorrow must first solve the mystery of her own killing. After multiple deaths by stab wounds (once at the end of a broken bong), Tree begins to atone her way through her past misdeeds, and emerges an entirely different character. As Rothe puts it, the film is “a horror-comedy-coming-of-age-action-thriller-love-story: Groundhog Day meets Scream meets John Hughes.”

Such a multi-hyphenate film obviously demands much from its lead actress, and Rothe carries each narrative and emotional beat with grace and conviction. This is most likely due at least in part to her equally varied acting experience. Born in Colorado, Rothe took part in school plays and community theater, but it wasn’t until she entered Boston University’s conservatory program that she was exposed to classical playwrights, and developed a love for what she describes as the “construction of an artistic identity.”  “Every project I do, I learn something new,” she says, and “every person I work with, I learn something from.”

Rothe’s attitude, then, naturally lends itself to her desire for diverse experience. “Even though I’ll always be in love with storytelling,” she explains, “the reason [it] feels important to me at different points in my life will change, and the kinds of characters I’m interested in exploring will also change based on experiences I’ve had and where I am.” So far she has tackled parts ranging from an enterprising pot dealer in MTV’s comedy series Mary+Jane to a supporting, singing role in last year’s La La Land, and is set to star in next year’s musical remake of the 1983 cult classic Valley Girl.

Professionally, Rothe is no stranger to reincarnation; however, Happy Death Day marks her first foray into horror. “I never thought, ‘I have to do a horror film,’” she says, “but then this one came along and it was just the right fit, and I was so excited about the script and just knew I had to do it.” It was her character’s emotional journey that attracted Rothe to the role: Tree’s transformation from snobby villain to “badass heroine.” Indeed, if Tree’s journey proves anything, it’s that the best way to escape a time-loop is by living like there’s no tomorrow.