14th February 2019 (UK)
Tree Gelbman discovers that dying over and over was surprisingly easier than the dangers that lie ahead.
Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine
I can pinpoint the moment Happy Death Day 2U lost me.
It’s in a scene involving a student pretending to be blind and French who is also trying to distract the Dean of the University while her friends stand at the door hoping she fetches them the keys to his office. It’s a woefully unfunny sequence that the film doesn’t ever recover from, but all the signs beforehand were pointing to this moment of inevitable flat-lining.
It’s a huge shame, because 2017’s Happy Death Day was a surprise hit of the year that successfully pays homage to 90’s slasher movies and, of all things, the 1993 time loop comedy Groundhog Day while still managing to carving its own identity. A sequel was inevitable after it scared up an astounding $125 million worldwide on a meagre $4.8 million budget with director Christopher Landon returning with the promise of explaining why the loop occurred in the first place. Sure enough, the clunkily titled Happy Death Day 2U does deal more in the hows and whys rather than the whos resulting in a far more uninteresting and unsatisfying continuation of a film that didn’t particularly need any explaining.
Finally managing to wake up the day after her birthday, Tree (Jessica Rothe; La La Land) is horrified when her boyfriend Carter’s (Israel Broussard) room mate Ryan (Phi Vu) claims to be living the same day over and over again, one that always ends with him being murdered by a killer in a baby mask. In an attempt to help him out, she’s unwittingly sends herself back into her all-too-familiar repeating cycle. But this time, things are different – Tree’s complacency to predicting what is about to happen is shaken when she sees people who are entirely out of place and relationships that were not formed in the first go around. There are far more pressing matters at hand though as Ryan continues to be stalked by his murderer. It’s left to Tree to frequently meet her demise to piece together how to close the time loop once and for all but when unforgettable figures from her past that she previously thought were gone forever resurface, will she even want to?
Happy Death Day 2U is at its strongest when joyously messing with the events that took place in the first movie. If it’s been a while since you watched the first instalment, I recommend reacquainting yourself with it as pivotal plot points for the second are only so due to what occurs in Happy Death Day. Make no mistake though: Happy Death Day 2U shifts genres from being a slasher love letter to now expressing its appreciation of 80’s Science Fiction movies like Back To The Future and Bill & Ted as well as slapstick college comedies such as Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. It’s an admirable switch that proves director Christopher Landon is not content with having his film be like the events it contains, by which I mean recycling the same formula and giving us something we’ve seen before. As a result, Happy Death Day 2U is vastly dissimilar to its predecessor, cranking the offbeat humour up and injecting unhealthy doses of absurd scientific ingredients into the franchise – a change that didn’t work for me at all.
That’s not to say the original Happy Death Day wasn’t without its humour. The montage of Tree trying in vain to find out who’s killing her by the most literal form of process of elimination is consistently funny and there’s an organic charm to the entire feature, but Happy Death Day 2U‘s endeavours for jokes feel painfully strained. The opening of this review outlines the worst offender but there are very few jokes that land. A retread of the assortment of demises that cuts Tree down is accompanied by a upbeat tune from emo-turned-bubblegum pop group Paramore but try as Landon might the charm and appeal is gone. It doesn’t help when large portions of the film are taken up by subsequent efforts to avoid or slow down the pesky Dean and the film essentially becomes a mockery of both itself and the genres it’s taking cues from.
What hasn’t changed though is Jessica Rothe’s enthusiasm for her character, Tree. Roth is the life of both Death Day movies and the franchise would be infinitely worse off without her. She’s clearly having fun even when I was not, but she really shines in the few surprising moments of tenderness that are sprinkled throughout Happy Death Day 2U. When it’s not desperately trying to make you laugh, Landon’s script does an effective job of exploring Tree’s character in far more depth than horror movies usually allow, resulting in some genuinely touching moments. Its thread of “what if?” scenarios do throw up questions worth pondering too but disappointingly, we’re never too far away from a gag that falls on its face to counteract them.
For all my negativity towards it, Happy Death Day 2 should be commended for its rebellion to not take the easy route of feeding us more of the same. Rothe’s Tree remains the roots of the franchise and there are occasions where its meddling in Happy Death Day‘s events almost make it a necessary sequel. But there’s a sense that Blumhouse’s eyes are bigger than their stomach – and only two entries in they’re already in danger of taking one slice too many from the now multi-flavoured Death Day cake.
Jessica Rothe as Tree is once again the root of Death Day's positives
At its best when messing with the events of the first film
Genre switch to comedy but very few jokes land
Killer remains but has been pushed to the back almost as an afterthought