4 out of 5 stars

Lucky, the latest original horror offering from Shudder, finds self-help author May (Brea Grant) taking her own advice when a masked man begins breaking into her house every night, even after she kills him. A blonde woman trapped in a time-loop with a serial killer may sound like Happy Death Day (2017) on the surface, but director Natasha Kermani and Grant (who also wrote the screenplay) deliver a distinct and provoking story that sets it apart.

Also, May’s ordeal is entirely different from Happy Death Day or even Groundhog Day (1993) for it seems the killer himself is the one looping, persistently returning as May’s forced to clean up after their fights and sit through police interviews again and again. The world keeps turning but May’s dragged back into having the same nightly encounter, much like big franchise Final Girls returning in sequels for a rematch with the boogiemen who refuse to stay down. Stranger still, May’s nonplussed husband Ted (Dhruv Uday Singh) is ready for the routine of fighting a masked man every night, acting like May’s first-time experience is some form of denial. Frustrated after a lover’s spat and denying any explanation, he takes off and leaves May on her own until she calms down. An unbelievably cruel act to leave anyone in this situation, but between promoting her book on female independence and residual guilt on nearly ruining their marriage, this might prove to be exactly what May needs to realign and assert who she is.

Everything in Lucky is about confidence, not luck. From May taking charge of her predicament to the unraveling mystery around her, the film boast precise and measured control. Natasha Kermani’s direction is both focused and atmospherically ethereal; allowing the audience to ruminate while never being distracted or bored from May’s immediate presence. The story ventures into cerebral horror and the cinematography by Julia Strain maintains a balancing act between boring ordinariness and obnoxiousness, expertly capturing an unwavering uncomfortable sensation.

The standout talent in this high-wire act is actor-writer Brea Grant, who crafts and performs a deft character arc with heavy allegory to explore forces in our everyday world made tangible. Grant and Kermani are confident in drip-feeding the most minimal exposition necessary for us to accept May’s supernatural undergoing. Happy Death Day was treated as an entertaining mechanical exercise with an engaging protagonist as a bonus, but Lucky is a deeply personal exploration of the female psyche. It utilises the oblique nature of this predicament to further drive existential questions.

On our second run, themes quickly emerge and it’s her time away from the killer that informs her, and our, path to enlightenment. Whereas Happy Death Day’s plucky heroine figures out convenient shorthand for her repetitions, May is increasingly perturbed by the behaviour of people surrounding her. After The Invisible Man (2020) I worried her constant police calls and suspicious pools of blood in her house would invoke similar themes of the irrational woman. Unlike the liberation of Happy Death Day, a feminist The Boy Who Cried Wolf would play out. I was only half right when it came to Lucky’s take on today’s culture of making internal struggles more external and communal. May’s frustration comes from insistently being treated as a victim. Police assume the all-too-familiar story of an abusive man and submissive woman. Even when cheating on him she’s positioned as powerless and has to refute that Ted never retaliate in violence. She was the cause of pain, which becomes a seamless parallel with overpowering her assailant; expressing certainty that she’s dealt fatal damage to this stranger, her friend insists “but he’s stronger than you, right?”

Lucky is not a traditional horror, so don’t expect anything close to Scream (1996). We’re never asking the Poochie question of whenever the killer’s not onscreen we should be asking where’s the killer. The scenes of May continuing her life are integral to the story. It’s no minor addition that her book is the zenith of self-indulgent self-help; that woman should champion themselves above all others, including other women. We even get the title drop when her publicist offhandedly calls her lucky for getting her book published which she defiantly shuts down because she worked her ass off to get it made.

Lucky throttles the watered-down meme of the final girl with a thoughtful understanding of the original intentions. We champion the surviving heroine when Carol Clover asserted that these protagonists were only gendered as such because male audiences wished to experience the thrills of a horror safe from the vulnerability the role entails. Men onscreen don’t scream, or run, or then trip and fall, but girls do. Well, not May. She stands firm against her attacker and her confidence in battling him easily becomes another layer in her struggling with this arbitrary torment. If overcoming the killer isn’t her objective, then what is? A clever mechanic evolves into a fascinating meta-commentary on why women fit perfectly in a constant state of horror.

Nobody watches a horror film expecting the lead to beat the killer in their first encounter. No matter how progressive or tough she is, the killer always has the upper-hand until the end. Throughout Lucky, there’s a motif of shattering; a plate broken, a window cracking at the edges, a stray shard of glass. May refuses to shatter, then reality shatters. The third act doesn’t hold your hand and glides along expectations to a rich and impactful climax. Some may not like the poetic ending, but I believe, like May’s self-help guide, that when you’re engaging in real life social movements there’s no concrete answer or solution, just a better understanding that educates us forward. It Follows (2014) spawned many videos attempting to explain the monster. Our instinctual need for puzzle-solving led to every true crime documentary, because we look for clean-cut explanations, up to and including why people do evil things.

Lucky provides an enriching satisfaction in learning to cope with the horror of probability; we may endure repeated trauma and we may never be able to make the world a better place, but what can we learn and more importantly what can we teach to others who aren’t strong enough to be a Final Girl?

USA | 2020 | 83 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

frame rated divider shudder

Cast & Crew

director: Natasha Kermani.
writer: Brea Grant.
starring: Brea Grant, Hunter C. Smith, Kristina Klebe, Dhruv Uday Sing, Yasmine Al-Bustami & Leith M. Burke.