It’s a familiar premise, yet inventive and wildly entertaining. Happy Death Day is a fusion of Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow and Scream all rolled into one time loop slasher flick.
College student Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe of La La Land) is pretty but self-centred. She’s estranged from her father, dismissive towards her friends, and has an affair with her professor. On her birthday, something strange happens. She gets brutally murdered and relives the day over and over again. Even though Tree takes different precautions at the start of each day, it always ends with her being killed.
The challenge of time-loop movies is to keep audiences engaged throughout. If each new day doesn’t intrigue, the audience will lose interest quickly. Director Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) mastered the art of keeping the audiences guessing, and throws in a fair amount of humour and tension to great effect. By the show’s third act, we’re deeply invested in finding Tree’s murderer.
Groundhog Day (1993)
This is the one that started it all. In fact, the movie is so deeply associated with the notion of time loop that it’s been widely referenced. People would lament “I’m having such a Groundhog Day” to describe repetitiveness in their lives. Groundhog Day stars Bill Murray as disgruntled Weatherman Phil Connors who travels to Pennsylvania to cover its annual Groundhog Day festivities. Strangely, he wakes up the day after reliving Groundhog Day again. It didn’t take long for Phil to realise he’s stuck in a loop and it frustrates him to no end. We’re taken through Phil’s bout of depression before trying to redeem himself. Co-written and directed by the late Harold Ramis (Ghostbusters), the movie went on to spawn numerous movies of the same concept.
Why you should watch it: This is the original movie that spawns all the time loop movies that follow after. Beyond that, the movie is peppered with wit and humour that withstand the test of time. It doesn’t matter if you watched it 10 years ago, or just yesterday, it’s still entertaining.
Run, Lola, Run (1998)
It’s a breathless race to beat the clock. This German thriller with a frenetic pace puts actress Franka Potente (The Bourne Identity) on the international scene and brings us on an exhilarating journey of a devoted girlfriend’s determination to save her dim-witted boyfriend. Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) is an errand boy for a criminal in Berlin and during one of his runs, he misplaces a bag filled with 20 thousand Marks. He has 20 minutes to retrieve the money or risks having his head loped. Helpless and hopeless, he turns to his girlfriend Lola (Potente) for help. Fiery-maned Lola springs into action immediately, and what follows are three “what if” scenarios of Lola’s attempts to out-race the time to get her hands on the money to save Manni’s life. Combining vibrant colours, energetic music and quick action shots, Run, Lola, Run has us on the edge of our seats, rooting for Lola.
Why you should watch it: When Run, Lola Run was released, it was like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Applying a video game-like formula to the story with its three different narratives, the movie inspired filmmakers like Edgar Wright, who went on to bring us Shaun of the Dead in 2004.
Source Code (2011)
It’s not an assignment for the weak-minded. Decorated soldier Captain Colter Stevens, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, finds himself in the body of a stranger and learns that he’s on a mission to identify a bomber of a commuter train bound for Chicago. The tricky part is that he’s part of a new government experience called the Source Code, and each time, he can only cross over to the body of a commuter on the train for the last eight minutes of his life. Each time Colter fails, he has to re-live the incident over and over again to gather clues to solve the mystery. Source Code injects the familiar Groundhog Day formula with a dash of science fiction to deliver an imaginative and fast-paced thriller.
Why you should watch it: The ending, of course, and your interpretation of it. Source Code tapers off with an open-ended question, what exactly happened to Colter? It may not have the complex layers of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, but it’s enough to intrigue audiences.
It’s about time time-loop movies involve the future. The year is 2074 and time travel is commonplace, but only on the black market. When the mobsters need to get rid of anyone, the victims are sent back into the past, where a hitman awaits them at the same spot they’re set to arrive to gun them down. It’s good money, and Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has been steadily saving a small fortune being a hired gun for the mob, except that one day, his future self (played by Bruce Willis) is being sent back to be executed. The old and young Joe meet and must find a way to escape their untimely demise. While time travel takes centre-stage in the first half of the movie, its second half covers more on its consequence to great effect, making Looper a refreshing time-loop movie.
Why you should watch it: Looper is an imaginative, intelligent and intricate sci-fi thriller that entertains from beginning to end. That and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s convincing portrayal of a young Bruce Willis makes it a palatable movie. Lastly, this is also the movie that introduces us to Rian Johnson, who would go on and direct Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
The Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Live. Die. Repeat. Tom Cruise stars as American Major William Cage, who’s sent to the front line to fight an army of hostile aliens. The problem is, Cage has not been combat trained, he’s more of a Public Relations officer. Needless to say, he’s killed in action almost immediately by an alien. Except he didn’t die, and finds himself reliving the same day again and again. Each day will end with him dying in combat until he starts learning the ways to engage his enemies and remembering their moves from previous days. He enlists the help of Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) and the pair embarks on a journey to find the mother of them all, the alien queen, to put a stop to the alien invasion. Based on the Japanese novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the movie enjoyed great success, with a sequel waiting in the wings.
Why you should watch it: Who wouldn’t want to see Tom Cruise repeating the same day over and over again? Apart from that, mixing the time loop concept with an alien invasion is refreshing, it’s like a heavy dose of Groundhog Day with a sprinkling of Alien.