Happy Death Day 2U (2019) Review

A “KILLER” PARADOXICAL SEQUEL


 

In 2017, Blumhouse Productions, a filmmaking studio that commonly produces horror style feature films, found critical and monetary success that year with their releases of Spilt and Get Out; both of which gained positive reviews from critics and moviegoers alike. In amongst those two popular releases, the studio also released the movie Happy Death Day; a small film that played upon the events of a young college girl who keeps on dying on her birthday; reliving the days events as she must try to find out who her killer is. While the film might lack notoriety from its cast / star power, Happy Death Day was met with generally positive reviews from its viewers, with many calling it a sort of “Groundhog Day meets Scream” vibe endeavor as well as producing a small (yet sizeable) return at the box office of $61 million against its production budget of $9 million. Now, two years later after it’s release, Universal Pictures (as well as Blumhouse Productions) and returning director Christopher Landon present the sequel to Happy Death Day with the movie Happy Death Day 2U. Is the second chapter in this horror slasher comedy worth seeing it or is it just a redundant and derivate theatrical piece of the first film?

THE STORY


Picking up the day after the events of the first film, college students Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) and Carter Davis (Israel Broussard) have only just begun to enjoy their newly formed romantic relationship with each other; having solve the mystery of Tree’s killer and the perplexing “time loop” of reliving the days events over and over again. Suddenly, Carter’s roommate Ryan Phan (Phil Vu) comes walking into their dorm room, claiming he’s reliving the same day over again after being murdered by a mysterious person in a mask of the campus’ mascot (i.e. a giant baby). Tree and Carter immediately realize that Ryan is now trapped in the same time loop as Tree was, but with no idea why or how it came to be. However, Ryan might have answer as he and his fellow classmates Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre Sarah Yarkin) have been working a secretive science experiment that (inadvertently) trapped Tree in a time loop and has now done the same to Ryan. Wanting to “close the loop”, the group turns on the machine again in attempt to fix everything. Unfortunately, it results in Tree becoming once again trapped in the same time loop as before, but now is in a parallel dimension (thanks to Ryan’s machine going haywire). Now, trapped in an alternative reality from her own, Tree must figure out what is different from her reality and unmask a different killer on the loose before returning to the present in order to break the paradoxical timeline cycle once again.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


It’s been interesting to see Blumhouse Productions growing these past few years. As some of you readers know, I’m not much of a horror movie fan (don’t dislike them, but not my cinematic “cup of tea”), but they have developed some moderate to effective horror feature films. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, 2017 was a good year for them, especially with their releases of both Spilt and Get Out (I preferred Spilt over Get Out…. but that’s just as well). I do remember seeing Happy Death Day during that year, but I wasn’t on plan on seeing it (I was asked too see it for another website I do review for). So…I decided to check it out and do a review for it. For what its worth, the movie was good as it was better than what I thought it was gonna be, especially with its silly witty and humor and its “Groundhog Day” premise, but it did have its fair share of problems. Suffice to say, it was okay movie that served its purpose and (like I said) did manage to become a moderate hit with moviegoers.

Of course, this brings me back to talking about Happy Death Day 2U, a 2019 movie that acts a sequel to the 2017 feature film. As mentioned in the above paragraph, I thought that Happy Death Day was sort of a “one and done” endeavor that was a moderate hit. You can imagine my surprise when I saw the movie trailer for a sequel to Happy Death Day. To be honest, I really didn’t hear much about the announcement of the film online or any type of “buzz” for that matter…just the movie trailer and I kind of surprised and little perplexed by it. I mean…what could they do with a second installment…have another time loop paradox again for the character of Tree to go through. It all just seemed like a quick “cash and grab” from the studios, so I really didn’t put much enthusiasm in wanting to see Happy Death Day 2U. However, as I want to continue to broaden my movie going horizons, I decided to see the movie a few weeks after it got released in theaters. Plus, a co-worker friend from work wanted to go see it, so I went to go see it with him. However, I fell a little bit behind in my movie reviews, so I’ve been playing “catch up”, which is why I’m doing my review for Happy Death Day 2U a little later than usually. So, what did I think of it? Well, to be honest, I actually liked it (more so than the first one). While there are something that the film can’t overcome, Happy Death Day 2U is a funnier / sillier take on its own dark comedy “Groundhog Day” premise, doubling down on its self-aware for a amusing story of alternative timeline realties. It doesn’t necessarily break the mold of the genre (or storytelling for that matter), but this sequel is both fun and entertaining; making for a “killer” paradoxical next chapter in the Happy Death Day franchise.

Returning to the director’s chair for Happy Death Day 2U is director Christopher Landon, who previous did the first Happy Death Day as well as other projects such as The Marked Ones and several of the Paranormal Activity movies (Paranormal Activity 2,3, and 4). Given the fact that he directed the first film, Landon does seem like suitable perfect choice for helming a sequel project of this nature, especially since it draws heavily from the previous installment. Like before, Landon finds a “happy medium” in balancing the movie’s comedic humor with its dark slasher / horror moments. Yes, it’s still a little strange to see the marriage of comedy and horror slasher come together, but Landon seems to make it work for this endeavor and it does certainly show that in this particular film. Like a lot of sequels, Landon makes Happy Death Day 2U somewhat self-aware (or rather more self-aware) of its silly / perplexing premise of time loops and reliving the days events over and over again. A film’s self-awareness can sometimes be a “double edge” sword, with sometimes the idea backfiring on its own awareness. Thankfully, that’s not the case in Happy Death Day 2U, with Landon doubling down on the features fun / silly premise and does so in manner that ultimately works. In addition, Landon, who also pens the film’s script, makes the film have an amusing idea of a parallel / alternative timeline reality; finding the character of Tree discovering what’s different from her own reality. It’s not exactly the most original idea (as it done many times before), but it works and does provide something interesting to play out in this comedy horror premise of time loops and uncovering a masked killer. Plus, like before, Landon does delve into a few dramatic beats within Tree’s journey, with Happy Death Day 2U uncovering one particular catalyst of which she (Tree) must make a hard decision upon (as its something we all would do if the choice was given to us). All in all, if you liked the first Happy Death Day, then you’ll definitely like this next entry as it somewhat improves upon the ideas and tone for a more comedic / self-aware motion picture endeavor than the previous installment.

As presentation goes, Happy Death Day 2U feels very much the same as its predecessor. That’s not to say that its bad or anything like that, but the movie doesn’t really go to elaborate set designs and lay out or any exotic location in order to tell its story. Still, the production of the feature’s background setting (and overall “look and feel”) feels genuine within the context of the narrative; utilizing the college campus grounds (inner halls, dorms, classrooms, etc.) for the film’s setting. In a nutshell, the production designs, set decorations, film editing, cinematography in Happy Death Day 2U meets the filmmaking industry standards for similar motion picture endeavor; neither really great nor terribly bad…. it’s somewhere in-between and (in this case) that’s good thing.

Despite the movie improving upon the previous feature, Happy Death Day 2U still has some wonky bumps and hiccups that hold the film back from being a true slam dunk endeavor (in either both horror or comedy). Perhaps one particular reason is the simple fact that the movie really didn’t need to be in the first place. Granted, the first Happy Death Day was fun and its gimmicky “Groundhog Day” premise did work for what the movie wanted to tell, especially within its dark comedy nuances of Tree dying several times throughout the feature. Thus (as mentioned above), Happy Death Day was an adequate “one and done” type of motion picture and really wasn’t expecting a follow-up. This, of course, goes back to this sequel, which seems a little redundant in producing continuation story to the 2017 movie. Yes, I do like Happy Death Day 2U better than the first one, but it all just seems a bit unnecessary (to say the least) as to make a second installment and to try and build a franchise of this concept. Like a lot of horror movies out there, the studios churn out sequels in order to build upon the success and this is made prevalent with Happy Death Day movies, especially since they relatively low production budget / cost. In short, Happy Death Day 2U definitely works within its context, but its really not something that was in high demand and just seems, more or less,

Coinciding with notion, Happy Death Day 2U does feel slightly derivate in its overall narrative structure and progression. Naturally, this is something I assumed that Landon faced with developing the screenplay and tries to “change things up” when crafting the script for a sequel to Happy Death Day. That being said, there’s just some about the movie’s genetic narrative make-up that has plenty of “déjà vu” in how it all plays out, with plot / story beats playing in a very similar fashion to how they were done before with a few minor altercations / changes made within the alternative reality timeline. Again, this is to be expected (at least it was for me), so I really didn’t really bother me as much.

What did bother me the most was the more introduction to the scientific technobabble that the feature presents in this sequel… most notably with Ryan’s quantum reactor project. I know that this sounds like a minor quibble complaint, but it just seems sillier (more so than the actual time loop paradox) and just comes off as a bit “left field” idea. I understand what Landon was trying to do and tries to give more of a credence to it, but the whole quantum reactor thing seems way too farfetched takes the story (already surreal as it is) to an unnecessary sci-fi aspect.

In terms of the cast, Happy Death Day 2U sees a lot (if not all) of the first film’s character return for this sequel endeavor, with literally all the actors and actresses that portrayed them in the 2017 movie reprising their roles. Returning at the head of the group is actress Jessica Rothe as the film’s main protagonist character of Theresa “Tree” Gelbman. Like before, Rothe, known for her roles in Mary + Jane, The Tribe, and La La Land, once again gives the best performance of the movie, certainly carrying the weight of the sequel’s story (main narrative thread) on her shoulders by displaying the various range of emotions for each particular scene (i.e. mean, sassy, comical, scared, sincere, frustrated, etc.). It’s kind of assuming to see Rothe’s Tree react to everything once again and is definitely the best equipped for a role like this, especially its dark humor wit. Like before, Tree’s character arc isn’t the most original one out there (and has done several times over), but Rothe still manages to make the most of the role, giving exactly what the movie calls for (and needs) and continues to make her portrayal of Tree Gelbman her best performance of her career (at least in my opinion). As before, actor Israel Broussard (Flipped and The Bling Ring) is the next memorable / best performance of the film as Carter Davis, a fellow college student that is now Tree’s boyfriend (at least in her world). Similar to Rothe, Broussard easily slides back into the role of Carter; continuing to pull off a fairly good job in selling his portrayal of the character as the sweet / endearing archetype that helps / care Tree with her time loop paradoxical plight once again. Like I mentioned in my review for Happy Death Day, the love story between Tree and Carter isn’t exactly the most compelling, but both Rothe and Broussard have (at the very least) good on-screen chemistry with each other.

Beyond the characters of Tree and Carter, the character of Ryan Phan, who was Carter’s roommate from the first Happy Death Day and who was portrayed by actor Phi Vu (Pitch Perfect 2 and Logan) makes a return in this sequel endeavor with a much larger part to play than it the previous movie. I was actually surprised to see him in larger supporting role in the movie, but his inclusion in how the Landon tries to “jumble things around” in this sequel actually works….and it is a welcomed one. Along with Vu’s Phan larger role, there are a few new characters that are attached to the project as well, including actress Sarah Yarkin (Foursome and American Horror Story) as Phan’s friend Andrea ‘Dre’ Morgan, actor Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi and Million Dollar Arm) as Phan’s friend Samar Ghosh, and actor Steve Zissis (Jeff, Who Lives at Home and Togetherness) as the college’s Dean Roger Bronson. There is one other new additionally character, but to mention this particular character (even the name of the actor / actresses) would spoil the feature’s twist in the storyline. Suffice to say, it’s an interesting to see this character in the sequel and does play an important part of Tree’s narrative journey in Happy Death Day 2U.

The rest of the cast are many familiar faces from the first film, but with different variations slightly altered from the original personas that we (and Tree) knew of. This includes actress Ruby Modine (Shameless and Central Park) as Tree’s roommate Lori Spengler, actress Rachel Matthew (Happy Death Day) as Tree’s sorority sister Danielle Bouseman, actor Charlie Aitken (The Knick and Frontier) as Dr. Gregory Butler, actor Caleb Spillyards (The Astronaut Wives Club and Anyone) as Tree’s crush / stalker Tim Bauer, and actor Jason Bayle (Trumbo and The Big Short) as Tree’s father David Gelbman. Collectively, it was kind of fun to see all these characters return for this sequel and to see them in a little bit of a different light from how they portrayed in the first film. Like before, some have bigger roles than others, but the group makes the most of their screen-time, especially Matthew’s Danielle who definitely is the big scene stealer in her parts.

Lastly, be sure to check out a little fun Easter Egg scene during the film’s mid-credits sequences; hinting at a possible third installment of the Happy Death Day franchise. Even if that never happens, it still left an amusing smile on my face at a potential next entry for Tree and the gang are possible gonna get into (definitely a zany premise).

FINAL THOUGHTS


Death has a killer comeback! It’s déjà vu all over again as time cycle loop day comes back to haunt Tree Gelbman in the new movie Happy Death Day 2U. Director Christopher Landon’s latest film sees the return of the cinematic story he began back in 2017, fueling the feature with great sense of “déjà vu” within alternative timeline twists for us (the viewers) to explore. While the movie can’t escape some of the derivate plot beats from the first movie as well as some goofy sci-fi reasoning for the narrative plot, but the film does succeed; doubling down on its “Groundhog Day” premise with a humorous twist on its dark comedy angst and nuances that really does pay off, especially thanks to the movie’s cast all returning. To be quite honest, I enjoyed this movie for than expected. Yes, it’s a bit more sillier and now entirely original, but the more self-aware tone and fun premise definitely works in the film’s likeability and overall presentation efforts. Thus, my recommendation for Happy Death Day 2U is a very favorable “recommended” one as it proves to be more entertaining than the previous one. As mentioned above, there is a little bit of wiggle room for a third (and possibly) final entry in the franchise…. but it will materialize sometime? It’s a bit unclear if it will or not, so we’ll have to just wait and see. For now, Happy Death Day 2U is still a playful improvement for the first film and something that’s easy to digest (for newcomers) as well as a gleeful / unapologetic fun within its own premise.

3.9 Out of 5 (Recommended)

 

Released On: February 13th, 2019
Reviewed On: April 14th, 2019

Happy Death Day 2U  is 100 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for violence, language, sexual material, and some thematical elements

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