Film reviews

Happy Death Day 2U – Review

Happy Death Day, released in 2017, was not a film that immediately suggested the need for a sequel. A murder-centric version of Groundhog Day where main character Tree (Jessica Rothe) must figure out who the creepy killer in the baby mask is, it was a surprisingly funny movie, with as many laughs as screams but in the end it told what appeared to be a self-contained story.

Enter 2019 and Happy Death Day 2U, and if the original was heavily influenced by Groundhog Day, this one is a little more Back to the Future mixed with some Triangle. We’ve got time loops, quantum mechanics, alternate dimensions and diverging timelines and all this temporal mumbo-jumbo crashes together in a mix that isn’t entirely satisfying, but nonetheless comes packed with plenty of humour, knowing nods to the audience and enough violence to keep the slasher fans happy.

We pick up the plot focusing on a secondary character from the original film, Carter’s put upon room mate Ryan (Phi Vu) who has been sleeping in his car. He immediately encounters a distinct series of events leading up to his eventual murder. “Ah-hah!” goes the audience, “It’s happening again, but now it’s the annoying roomie’s problem!” This time though, both Tree and Carter know what Ryan is going through, and know what needs to be done to break the loop and free him…. or so they think.

Cue ominous music and a plot that goes flying off into parts unknown without a backward glance.

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One science experiment gone wrong later, and the whole thing kicks off again. And again. And again. The formula is familiar, but Tree (Jessica Rothe) keeps the whole thing ticking along nicely, balancing frustration and anger with the humour and pathos of the latter half of the film. She is ably assisted by returning characters Carter and Ryan and we have two new characters in the shape of Samar Ghosh (Suraj Sharma) and Andrea Morgan (Sarah Tarkin) who have been assisting with Ryan’s experiment. While not as fleshed out as the main trio their characters are quickly established and slot nicely into the continuity with nary a ripple.

Looking further into the details of the plot, as mentioned above it isn’t quite as satisfying as the original. The story is nowhere near as tight or focused and some sequences are just played for out and out comedy. In fact the focus often seems to be far more on the humour aspect of it than the horror, with the killer being completely and intentionally ignored for a large chunk of the middle act. There is also a far greater focus on trying to tug at audience heartstrings here which…mostly works, and that is entirely down to the acting chops of Jessica Rothe who sells every moment with red-ringed eyes and tears trickling silently down her cheeks.

Soundtrack duties again fell to Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica, Colossal, 10 Cloverfield Lane) and he returns to many of the themes and motifs from the original, an unpleasantly haunting, distorted baby’s cry weaved into many of the scenes involving the killer. The original Happy Death Day soundtrack is a decent listen on its own so this one should also stand up well once it gets a separate release.

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Christopher Landon not only resumes director’s duties here, but also writing duties as opposed to Scott Lobdell who wrote the original and that is to the detriment of the sequel. Lobdell has written extensively for both Marvel and DC comics over the last near thirty years while Landon has only written screenplays for movie and this does come through in the more untidy and convoluted plot, Lobdell’s writing was much tighter and more focused.

This is not a sequel that will please everyone. Those expecting another tight little slasher movie plot will be disappointed, but for those willing to strap in and hang on for the ride, there’s a whole lot to like here. The acting is spot on, the humour is laugh-out loud funny, and the expansion of the universe and the characters feels natural and organic. This was an unexpected sequel, but a very welcome one. Christopher Landon has stated that he has an idea in mind for a third film and if it anything like this one then hopefully (depending on whether or not this one is a success at the box office) we will get the chance to see it.

Happy Death Day 2U is on general release in UK cinemas from tomorrow.

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