Wednesday , 23 October 2019

And a Happy Death Day 2U too – review

If at first, you succeed, try and try again….

Time to blow out the candles once again, well, actually, a bunch of times. One of horror’s most inventive and fun slashers of recent years, 2017’s inspired, Happy Death Day, is back with a vengeance, and a few new tricks up its sleeve. Released a mere 16 months after its predecessor, an incredibly short window for any sequel, Happy Death Day 2U repeats the original’s winning formula, but adds a few new wrinkles in time and character to keep things incredibly fresh and interesting. In case you missed the first film, here’s a recap:

Tree (a cool name to begin with) is a sorority student at Bayfield University, who upon waking up in a classmate’s dorm after a night of partying, ultimately finds herself the victim of a masked murderer when the day reaches its end. What a way to celebrate your birthday. But, wait, not so fast. As her life fades away, Tree inexplicably finds herself back in the same dorm room on her birthday, as she begins to relive all the same events once again, albeit with minor tweaks here and there, yet all leading to her eventual demise. As Tree begins to realize she is stuck in a never-ending time loop, she must piece together who the killer is while attempting to avoid being killed over and over again, as each painful death is slowly taking its toll on her, mentally and physically. Meanwhile, this once self-centered, mean-spirited individual learns to grow as a person, just like a tree, get it?

Phi Vu as Ryan in “Happy Death Day 2U,” written and directed by Christopher Landon.

Happy Death Day was a really clever, intelligent and super fun horror slasher take on the classic Bill Murray 1993 comedy, Groundhog Day, or any number of films or TV shows where the lead character is forced to relive the same day repeatedly (Tom Cruises’ 2014 sci-fi actioner, Edge of Tomorrow, The X-Files‘ season 6 episode, “Monday.”) What made the movie so watchable was not only its intriguing premise, but the charismatic performance of its lead, the charming Jessica Rothe. The movie rested solely on her shoulders, and she more than delivered the goods, running the gamut of emotions, from a shallow, yet not entirely unlikable mean girl, to someone with a much warmer and winning personality. Rothe’s character not only had to endure the tortuous ordeal of suffering through increasingly painful fatalities, but also the emotional pain she was still experiencing over the recent loss of her beloved mom. Rothe was terrific in handling all of this and was a big reason for the original’s success. But before this turns into more of a review of the first film, let’s turn our attention to the new one.

Happy Death Day 2U twists things around right from the get-go, beginning with the Universal logo, then picking up right after the first film as it follows the life of one of the side characters, Ryan (Phi Vu), who is roommates with Carter (Israel Broussard), and whose room Tree repeatedly wakes up in. Turns out Ryan, who is working on a school science project involving a quantum reactor, is about to be stuck in his own time loop as he too is killed later in the day by the Babyface Killer only to wake up alive and well ready to relive the day’s events once more. (Let it be said, is there a lamer mascot for a school than a freakin’ baby?!!!) As Tree and Carter attempt to help Ryan put an end to his death days, things go awry and Tree finds herself back in her original predicament. Not again! Without giving too, too much away, while the first film took a very Groundhog Day approach to its story, adding the slasher angle, Happy Death Day 2U takes a more science fiction, Back to the Future 2 route, with nods to everything from clock towers to bully Biff. Throw in some Final Destination, while keeping the Halloween/Scream slasher angle and you have a mish-mash of genres that works from start to finish and back again. Where the horror aspect takes a back seat at times, the sciencey angle moves front and center, with quantum mechanics, complex algorithms and multiverses all coming into play. The film has a bit of an 80’s throwback feel to it, especially reminiscent of the Val Kilmer starring Real Genius from 1985.

Coming from the incredibly successful Blumhouse Productions, headed by Jason Blum, and written and directed by Christopher Landon, who also directed and re-worked the script for the original film, Happy Death Day 2U has taken a premise that by its very nature is repetitive and could become stale and dreary, but instead remains fresh and moves full steam ahead in exciting new ways. Once again, Jessica Rothe puts in an outstanding performance as the victim/final girl that is both humorous and heartfelt. While her voice is certainly one of her most powerful weapons, whether its a stinging putdown, clever quip, or flat-out scream, it’s the emotions she conveys just by the expressions on her face that ring true the most. Just watch her in one particular scene where she unexpectedly sees someone from her past. For fans of the first film, seeing all those characters return here, along with the same locations, being that it takes place on the same campus the next day, only adds to the enjoyment of the film, especially seeing the various people interact in different ways.

Time travel, or the ability to go back and change something from your past, has always presented one of the more intriguing premises in genre film and television. From movies like The Terminator, Back to the Future and Frequency or TV shows like Quantum Leap, Journeyman and Timeless (all NBC shows, by the way), the chance to right a wrong, to fix something in history so as to make the present or future better, is something we all would like to be able to do. Seriously, who doesn’t think of various times in their life where if only they could’ve done this or that instead, things might’ve been a whole lot different today? In Happy Death Day 2U, Tree is presented with just such opportunities and must grapple with some very difficult decisions that will affect not only her life going forward, assuming she survives the killer, but those she loves as well. It’s this dilemma that gives added weight to the film and makes Happy Death Day 2U a cut above the usual slasher film. Let’s hope we get another film in this potential ongoing franchise, if just to see what they might title it next!

— review by Brian de Castro

2 comments

  1. I need to see this movie while it is still in the theaters!

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