Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Death makes a killer comeback.
Now in its second installment, it’s a mystery why 50 Cent’s ‘In Da Club’ — with the lyrics ‘Go, shawty, it’s your birthday, we gon’ party like it’s yo birthday’ — hasn’t been dropped in any of the Happy Death Day films, despite the fact that it features so heavily in its trailers. But I digress.
After breaking free from the unexplained, life-threatening events in 2017’s sleeper hit Happy Death Day, sorority sister Theresa ‘Tree’ Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) — repeatedly stalked by a homicidal single-toothed baby-faced masked murderer on her birthday, forced to relive the same day over and over again — has emerged with a renewed sense of character and a new lease on life, ditching her feisty old habits — evidently, that’s what being stuck in a Groundhog Day-esque time loop does to ya. Glad to have shattered the cycle, Tree has a landed herself a charming, sincere boyfriend in Carter Davis (Israel Broussard), whom she’s enjoying spending quality (dorm) time with.
When Happy Death Day 2U (cunningly titled, right?) opens, however, it tricks us into believing that this follow-up will be based on Phi Vu’s character Ryan Phan, Carter’s geeky, science-obsessed roommate — ya know, that nosy Asian dude from the original, who (time after time) walked in on Tree after her shameful stumble out of Carter’s bed. When the picture commences, we see Ryan, on a different side of the Bayfield University campus, having spent the night in his beat-up car — which smells like Hot Pockets and feet, apparently — have his own ‘walk of shame’ through the college grounds before making his way up to his room, where he moseys in on Tree and Carter doing the dirty. He then proceeds to the school lab, meeting up with fellow science nerds Samar Ghosh (Suraj Sharma) and Andrea ‘Dre’ Morgan (Sarah Yarkin). And that’s where we learn about their overelaborate experiment, the threesome attempting to create an untried quantum reactor — think a kind of dimension-hopping time machine.
Of course, the irritable Uni Dean, Roger Bronson (Steve Zissis), won’t have a bar of it, barging in on the gang and shutting down their reactor mid-test-run, which, in turn, sparks several power outages across the area. Needless to say, while in the dark Ryan gets knifed by good ol’ Babyface and, presto he’s whisked back to the start of the very same day — Tuesday, September 19th, the day after Tree’s birthday.
Tree very quickly catches wind of Ryan’s déjà vu scenario, and although absolutely horrified, tries to help the guy out, aiding Ryan in tracking down this new Babyface and, once again, unmasking the felon. Things, though, don’t go according to plan (well, if they did there wouldn’t be a movie now would there?), and poor Tree, well — thanks to the magic of quantum physics — she’s flung back to the previous morning, Monday, September 18th, her birth, I mean death day. But this time there’s a catch, she’s not only trapped in the same day, but she’s also stuck in an alternate timeline. And, with the proceedings not unfolding quite the way she remembers, Tree must work a little harder to catch her killer and find her way back ‘home’ — that’s if she even wants to return, seeing as Tree discovers some pretty big bombshells in her substitute life.
With Christopher Landon returning as director, and assuming duties as writer on this second chapter — Landon being no stranger to screenplay writing, having penned a host of genre flicks including Paranormal Activity 2 and 4, along with the criminally under-seen Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015) — Happy Death Day 2U, ironically, doesn’t suffer from seen-it-all-before-itis, a sickness that tends to plague most horror-slasher sequels — it’s leaps and bounds better than those rushed-into-production chiller cash grabs, a pretty low bar to clear, I know. In fact, one can say that Happy Death Day 2U is an entirely different beast altogether, the film, which is far from being your classic ‘scary movie,’ a fun fusion of Weird Science (1985) and Back to the Future (1985) — so, yeah, it’s more of a dramedy sci-fi with mild frightfest elements. With that said, it’s certainly bloody (possibly more so than its predecessor) and boasts a big enough body count, but it’s sillier than the first, and a bit more self-aware, too.
Having Landon come back not only to direct but also write seems like a dead-on fit for the Blumhouse-produced series; this guy knows the story, its characters and where he’d like to take things. For a film that keeps looping the same day over and over, constantly treading well-trodden territory, HDD2U feels shockingly fresh. For one, the whole who-is-the-killer thread takes a bit of back seat making way for a new set of challenges, the narrative more focused on the paralell universe stuff — we finally get some (albeit ludicrous) answers for the previous film’s unexplained phenomenon. And this time, Tree must keep dying to aid the techie trio, who are trying to figure out the correct algorithm needed to send her back to her own reality; half the time she’s offing herself, so there’s really no need for the one-toothed masked mascot, the flick’s best fatality (not a spoiler if you’ve seen any of trailers) involving a bikini-wearing Rothe skydiving without a parachute.
Thematically, Happy Death Day 2U extends on ideas from the first, the film exploring ‘what ifs,’ second chances and the power of memories, our protagonist having to learn to move forward by letting go of burning regrets and her own painful past. All of this would amount to nothing if the lady at the center of it all weren’t so genuine, committed and passionate, and Rothe hits another home run in HDD2U. Following her star-making turn in the ’17 picture, Rothe single-handily raises the middle-of-the-road material, her performance feeling a tad more mature — Tree has some rather weighty choices to make here, broadening the character’s introspective growth.
Much like the able Rothe, the rest of the cast are back for this second go-around — from Charles Aitken’s adulterous doctor to Tree’s loving father, David (Jason Bayle) — most having slightly meatier roles. And uniformly, everyone’s great — new additions included! The chemistry between Broussard’s sweet and supportive Carter and Scream Queen Rothe is palpable — as an on-screen couple, these guys are adorable — while Rachel Matthews’ zesty and ditsy, self-absorbed queen bee, Danielle Bouseman, if funnier here, too, Matthews’ getting to flaunt her physical flair in a slapstick scene she shares with Steve Zissis’ tightly-wound headmaster, which is an out-and-out zenith. And what slash ‘em up is complete without its blanketed butcher, the rubber-masked Babyface (designed by Tony Gardner, the man responsible for creating the Ghostface getup) a little less menacing in this subsequent entry, given that the real villian here is the twin universe and its endless hypotheticals.
Although a mid-credits stinger teases a possible new direction for the PG-13 franchise, its less than stellar earnings (both here and abroad) have ceased any sort of spin-off/ continuation momentum — and that’s a real kick in the teeth. Still, Happy Death Day 2U is a harmless hybrid horror-comedy-sci-fi-drama, the film just as witty, wily and wild as its precursor, despite its outwardly rinse-and-repeat premise. With the RGT M8s and munchies, HDD2U makes 4 a GR8 NGT in.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by S-Littner