A film review by Craig J. Koban February 28, 2019

HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U j
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2019, PG-13, 100 mins.

 

Jessica Rothe as Theresa "Tree" Gelbman  /  Israel Broussard as Carter Davis  /  Phi Vu as Ryan Phan  /  Suraj Sharma as Samar Ghosh  /  Sarah Yarkin as Dre Morgan  /  Rachel Matthews as Danielle Bouseman  /  Ruby Modine as Lori Spengler

Directed by Christopher Landon  /  Written by Scott Lobdell and Christopher Landon

 

 

 

Remember 2017's HAPPY DEATH DAY, the GROUNDHOG DAY inspired time looping knock-off that was a surprisingly enjoyable and mostly razor sharp dissection of teen slasher horror films? 

For that matter, do you remember 2017's HAPPY DEATH DAY, the GROUNDHOG DAY inspired time looping knock-off that was a surprisingly enjoyable and mostly razor sharp dissection of teen slasher horror films? 

Sarcasm aside, that Blumhouse Production effort really snuck up on me and many other filmgoers a few years ago, and like great cinematic curveballs it really elevated itself above my low expectations for it.  We've seen countless permutations of the GROUNDHOG DAY premise before, and I wasn't entirely looking forward to another, but HAPPY DEATH DAY set itself proudly apart from the other copy cats in terms of its clever writing and winning, star making performance by star Jessica Rothe.  

Now comes the unavoidable, yet amusingly titled HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U, a sequel that certainly doesn't quite fire on the same hysterical cylinders as the first film, but it emerges as deliriously and commendably crazy with its choices.  The sequel shows great fiendish glee in not only poking fun again at horror genre troupes, but also those of time travel centric sci-fi films.  Rather thankfully, HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U is also self-aware throughout about it's own cockamamie premise (it never takes itself too seriously, and this time it plays more like a pure sci-fi farce than a horror thriller cross morphed with Harold Ramis' aforementioned 1993 comedy classic).  Plus, with Rothe once again being thanklessly committed and good here there's a lot going on in this sequel to admire. 

 

 

HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U picks up right where the last one left us, and for those that need a refresher that film concerned the hapless plight of college student Tree (Rothe) continually waking up over and over again to the same day (her birthday) and was forced over and over again to be killed by the same mass murdering stalker, and her only way out of this nightmarish scenario was to deduce the killer's identity to end the loop once and for all.  Welp, she did just that - after being slaughtered by him countless times that continually rebooted her day - and now hopes to live a college life of relative normalcy and one that goes from one day to the next - with her new boyfriend, Carter (Israel Broussard).  Things get weird again when one of Carter's high science minded friend in Ryan (Phi Vu) finds himself trapped in the same time loop as Tree did in the first film.   

Now, before you can scream "DEJA VU!" it's revealed that Phi's time loop has been directly caused by a series of somewhat risky science experiments that he and his fellow geeks have been performing involving quantum energy and the possibilities of multiple universes.  As Tree and Carter attempt to help Phi get out of his own time loop an accident happens in the lab that - yup! - sucks Tree back into her own time loop, which, as astoundingly convenient as it seems, is the exact same birthday loop that she was trapped in during the events of the first film (talk about horrendous luck).  Now, it's bad enough for Tree to have to relive the past film's living hell predicament, but this time things have completely changed in the sense that she comes to the realization that she's been trapped in a time loop...from an alternate dimension version of her life...while still trying to fend off the unstoppable wraith of the same masked killer that, most likely, is now a different person altogether.   

Worst.  Day.  Again.  Ever. 

One of the joys of HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U is that - unlike so many obligatory and lazily spoon fed sequels out there - it doesn't try to lethargically repackage the exact same storyline from its antecedent.  The premise is still basically the same, yes, but HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U is not a one note retread of everything that came before, seeing as it's trying - sometimes with success, sometimes not - to find ways to twist and turn things this go around to make the proceedings seem fresh and new.  On those levels, HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U is a successful sequel that's unafraid of shaking things up.  The whole tone and narrative shift this go around is quite different as well, seeing as the makers have moved away from a horror film commentary piece and instead is a BACK TO THE FUTURE II influenced sci-fi comedy, with enough talk about parallel and multiple universes and the tearing of space time to make Doc Brown's head shake.  There's something to be said about taking the series down such a decidedly different path for a follow-up (that, and perhaps what made the first film work so well was the intangible nature of not providing explanations for Tree's time loop).  Still, HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U deserves props for modest risk taking and not giving audience members exactly what they want. 

And, of course, the film generates a lot of comic mileage out of its absolutely preposterous narrative, and the ample crazy stuff on display in this sequel allows for it to maintain a bonkers momentum throughout.  There's merriment to by found in a completely macabre montage mid-way through, featuring the desperate, yet perversely industrious Tree deciding that she's done having a psychopath kill her everyday to reset her time loop, and instead takes control of the situation to, well, kill herself to reset her day (during the slick sequence we witness her do everything from throw herself out of an airplane without a parachute while wearing just her underwear to drinking a whole bottle of Draino in a grocery store isle).  There's also great fun to be had in Tree trying to make some semblance of sense - as only the air-head in her could - of the limitlessly complex quantum entanglement she's trapped in this time, which requires her dim witted character to navigate herself through unfathomably complex layers of scientific mumbo-jumbo about time travel, time paradoxes, the multiverse, and so on.  Having said that, since she's re-living the same day over and over again...she has the luxury of extra free time to become an expert. 

Here's where things get a tad tricky in this review.  For as much admiration as I had for this sequel's commendable unwillingness to recycle the last film wholesale, I certainly can understand why the radical shift in tone here from slasher horror to sci-fi will definitely alienate some fans of the original.  There was a decent sense of joy and discovery to be had with experiencing Tree's ordeal the first time - and all without laborious expositional particulars and unnecessary explanations - that seems to be lacking now.  Plus, with all of HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U's multiple scenes of characters talking and debating about universe and dimension jumping and how quantum science figures into every fabric of Tree's time loop, there's no beguiling sense of mystery again.  And speaking of mystery, the big reveal of the new hooded and masked killer seems like it was thrown into the climax of the new story almost like a haphazardly constructed afterthought.  HAPPY DEATH DAY 1 was all about its juicy whodunnit narrative, whereas here it ultimately doesn't matter nearly as much, nor is the killer's identity unveiled with as much shocking fanfare. 

I guess the larger question I always ask myself with any film review is simply whether or not a film deserves big screen consumption.  There are aspects of HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U that deserves your time, like its throw caution to the wind zaniness and insatiable desire to be different from its predecessor (not to mention that Rothe once again gives a pretty terrific performance that migrates from one emotional extreme to the next to relay Tree's anxiety-plagued ordeal; she carries every minute of these films).  However, HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U might be too different for some, and its predilection to segue to silly sci-fi slapstick and from horror comedy might be too much for some to bare.  I'm just not sure I can bring myself to give this sequel a passing grade for theatrical viewing, but it most certainly will make a solid rental later on, which leaves my two and half star rating feeling just.  HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U is a fairly well oiled, briskly paced, and mostly funny amalgam of various genre extremes, and its goofy kitchen sink creative choices make for a passably good 90-plus minutes of inspired madness.  Check your brain at the door before entering into the cinema, and don't leave too early so you miss the end credits epilogue, which hints at even more madness to come.   

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