Review: Ambitious ‘Happy Death Day 2U’ runs circles around itself
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
The novelty in the 2017 sleeper hit “Happy Death Day” revolved around a time loop in which a final girl named Tree (Jessica Rothe) gets caught in a vortex living the same day over and over. The twist being that she would meet her demise via the hands of a knife wielding killer wearing an ugly baby-faced cupid mask with one tooth sticking out and the day would reset. It was a stalk and slash thriller that attempted to bring the aurora of “Groundhog Day” and the self referential elements of “Scream” together and, at least for me, came up short. While the film benefited from Rothe’s versatility and comedic timing, Chris Landon’s flick ended up playing the same trick over and over, and never learned from its own mistakes.
But since the micro budgeted Blumhouse film was a hit, “Happy Death Day” has inadvertently become a franchise, and while the sequel entitled “Happy Death Day 2U” has ambition beyond the normal tier of slasher thrillers (let alone sequels) the narrative becomes convoluted too quick, and sets a code of standards that it never lives by.
To his credit, Chris Landon (who returned to write and direct the sequel) tries to rise above the normal tropes associated with this genre, even trying to replicate a riff on the ole’ “Back To Future Part II” formula. Yet, in all honesty, the ideas and ploys within the narrative framework generally remain constant. Tree (Rothe) has once again gotten herself stuck in some looney time constraint that throws her back into orbit as she must outsmart the cupid baby faced killer again. Granted, at least for the films opening twenty minutes, her peers get tossed in the time loop as well, and are forced to fend off a serial killer stalking them.
Except, it’s the ambition of “Happy Death Day 2U” that hurts its overall value. The more it wanders down this path, the harder it is to root for. In the original outing, it’s never disclosed how Tree was caught in this never ending cycle and Landon’s sequel provides the answer in one giant McGuffin: a thesis project created by Ryan (Phi Vu - who is promoted to a beefy role this time around) called “Sissy” that dabbles with quantum mechanics and somehow throws individuals into alternate realities. It can basically be summed up into three words: “Big Scientific Fluke.”
Tree gets tossed into an alternate reality where she’s no longer dating Carter (Israel Broussard) - the dude whose room she constantly woke up in previously, and eventually fell in love with - but her deceased mother is very much alive throwing Tree into an emotional conflict. If this sounds like its ironically running circles around itself, that’s because the scripting never seems to abide by its code of ethics regarding space time continuum. Because if it did, then other characters slashings that took place in the opening minutes would somehow resurface and they never do. There’s just no consistency.
Then again a movie called “Happy Death Day 2U” doesn’t need logic, but if you’re going to set standards for all your time travel mechanics, at least roll with the punches and not ditch the idea halfway through. Entire subplots are dropped before we reach the thirty minute mark.
Still, all the actors are funny and game. Rothe continues to be a beacon of hope for future Scream Queen generations and her comedic timing saves the film from being a total bust. And even when the low-grade buzz starts to dwindle, Landon throws another outlandish idea at the heads of unsuspecting audience members. My hope is that by the time they decide to make “Happy Death Day 3” (Its inevitable) that Landon’s outrageous themes can stay focused. Ultimately, “Happy Death Day 2U” is worth a look, but if the filmmakers want to continue building the foundation for this unnecessary franchise, perhaps they could remember to scare us too.