Happy Death Day 2U
What’s your favorite movie sequel? “Empire Strikes Back,” “The Dark Knight,” “T-2”? Don’t let the classics you remember when you were younger fool you into think sequels have been performing well as of late. In the past decade the script has been flipped and instead of getting all timers like those referenced previously; Hollywood has trotted out “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “Dumb and Dumberer,” “Zoolander 2,” need I go on?
I’m delighted to tell you that in the case for “Happy Death Day 2U” the follow up to the quietly successful “Happy Death Day” that released this same time last year; should be grouped with the formers. It’s really good and so different but works as more than a competent follow up to the 1st movie.
We start off our new journey following Ryan (Phi Vu) Carter’s roommate waking up in his car parked outside the dorms, walking down the street hitting some familiar composition beats and barging in on Tree (Jessica Rothe) and Carter (Israel Broussard) canoodling. Carter quickly kicks him out like before and we think for a second “Could we be back in the loop”? Thankfully were not, we continue on watching Ryan meet up with a couple of his friends Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre’ (Sarah Yarkin) at their science lab. We get introduced to more of their college world and a Quantum Reactor project that’s been on the fritz and is sure to set up the insane events about to unfold. Quickly Ryan has some eerie sense somethings not right as he gets texted pics of him that brings about a looming danger. We get all the suspense we remember from “Happy Death Day” culminating in Ryan’s death by a new Baby Face Killer with a butcher knife in the chest. Next scene, Ryan wakes up in his car once again and gets the dreaded Déjà vu putting our sequel of events in to full speed as he manically barges in on Tree and Carter and tells him them what happened.
You see, it’s only been a day since the events of the last film and Tree thinking she’d have a little more time of peace leaps into action to put the loop to an end. Having died a dozen or so times just yesterday and now knowing who the killer was Tree advises Ryan to stay vigilant and the three of them would thwart the new villain. Later that night a cornered Ryan comes face to mask with the new killer, but Tree comes to the rescue and subdues and unmasks him. To their surprise its revealed the new Baby Face Killer is, another Ryan?!?!?!?
It was at this moment I felt HDD2U had jumped the shark. I was delighting in the movie playing the hits, getting some early blood and kills in, plus adding in a lot more comedy which was refreshing. As we veered more into the Ryan Science buddies plot the tone shifted away from its slasher roots to a more sci-fi comedic spin. That’s not a bad thing, but a peculiar choice. To be fair, there is an inherent challenge in making a sequel. You must balance maintaining similarity with the original, to keep the core spirit of the franchise without copying the exact same film, while also trying to branch out and try new things without losing what made the original great in the first place. HDD2U is walking a fine line but manages to straddle it fairly successfully throughout the film.
Now this is where things get pretty nerdy and crazy. Try your best to follow along.
The second Ryan frantically warns that the original must die for the loop to close, as his arrival in this dimension was a complication of the Quantum Reactor not working as it should. Ryan number one clearly freaking out takes matters into his own hands, turns on the reactor with everyone in the lab and attempts to plug in a new algorithm to the reactors programming that would fix the time stream and close the loop. The reactor releases a powerful energy pulse that sends everyone flying including a new character that enters in to stop it all, Dean Bronson (Steve Zissis).
Tree groggily wakes up back in Carters dorm room in an all too familiar fashion and screams hysterically when she realizes she’s back in her loop. She brings along Ryan and Carter explain to them what’s going on as it’s her birthday again and she knows in order to make things right she’s going to have to stop her murdering roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) and serial killer John tombs except things aren’t playing out exactly as they did before. Lori is not the Baby Face killer and Carter is now dating Danielle and Danielle is no longer a bitch and is kind of a good person, and oh; Tree’s mom is alive!
Ryan theorizes that using the reactor caused Tree to drift into another other dimension and to close the loop she would have to not only find a way back to her dimension but decide if she’d want to return at all.
Ok, so there’s some unique things done in the first act of the movie that helps orient the audience to everything that has gone on. A nice recap was done admirably, and the tone never let up. It’s a testament to the charm of this cast especially Jessica Rothe that gets us all to buy in to these new set of circumstances. The cast’s chemistry is wonderful. Even slightly a better person we still love to hate Danielle. Samar and Dre’ are great comic relief that’s never too much but just right.
It’s a tough pill to swallow introducing time travel into a horror/ slasher film but Director Christopher Landon does a good job. The script instantly heightens the stakes by complicating Tree’s goals. In the 1st film she had to survive her B-Day and had a difficult time afterward trying to make sense of it all. In introducing the Quantum Reactor as the plot device that may have influenced the events previously, Tree questions where she is. She thought maybe the universe was teaching her some grand lesson. Luckily, Carter being the great guy he is reinforces to her that, that doesn’t make it mean any less.
I believe that’s a fascinating theme to explore in this setting that we are more than the things that happened to us.
The movie can redeem itself because it knows exactly what it is and because of that has license to operate differently. HDD2U is more meta and self-referential of the genre. It’s a cool sand box to play in and the script is fully aware of that. The jokes land for the most part however in the 2nd act as we uncover the new ways Tree must go about her suicides to find a way back home the pace felt a little stale. Many sequels, this one included fall victim in the middle of the story to hold the audience as the film meandered a bit to get to Tree’s big decision.
She’s had to kill herself over and over to assist the science crew by memorizing failed algorithms in order to relay them back in her resurrected day until they find the right one. Once they do, everything seems ready to go until Tree makes the decision to stay behind in this new reality as this one has her mother alive.
This is ultimately a movie about 2nd chances. Yes, being a sequel, but also being an opportunity to connect with someone you lost, a roommate you did wrong; but at what cost. Carter once again shares with Tree that “The pain, that loss is what makes you, you.” You really must give it to this guy. Israel’s performance is sweet, endearing, understanding; how could she not give it all up for him, right?
Turning her back on her decision and looking to move on Tree remembers she’s back in a horror movie and looks to find out who the new killer is in this time line. The remainder of the 3rd act flip flops between the time travel slapstick routines and the Death Day faithfulness which could’ve been done better but has many entertaining moments throughout to get you to stick with things.
In this timeline Lori is innocent but the cheating Professor and his wife are our bad guys. It’s a race against time to stop them before murdering Lori and getting back to the science lab In time to get back to her dimension before Dean Bronson shuts the Quantum Reactor down for good.
All around the ensemble helped bring up the parts of the movie that succumb to some of the pitfalls sequels often have. The plot becoming less straight forward must consistently reset in order to avoid plot holes and it was noticeable. The editing does the best it can at moving us along without realizing some of the funky steps taken or the dramatic shift in tone. The cinematography is up to industry standard and like many sequels the budget for VFX, shooting locations, and set pieces are more apparent and for the most part appropriate.
HDD2U does just enough to live up to the overall quality of the 1st while taking a ballsy turn shifting in tone and playing more with time. And leaving enough room for the franchise to continue, hopefully in a simpler way next time.
KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 7/10
Director: Christopher Landon
Writer: Christopher Landon
Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma
Run Time: 117 mins