Happy Death Day 2U, 2019.
Directed by Christopher Landon
Starring Jessica Rothe, Ruby Modine, Israel Broussard, Rachel Matthews, Suraj Sharma, Charles Aitken, Phi Vu and Dean Bronson.
Having survived repeatedly dying while being pursued by a masked killer, Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) discovers that this time around, she’s not the only one stuck in a murderous timeloop.
The timeloop narrative has been on repeat ever since Christopher Lloyd stuck Einstein in a Dolorean, but Hollywood has continually found ways to keep it fresh; comedy has given us Groundhog Day, the sci-fi angle was tackled by Edge of Tomorrow, and in 2017 Blumhouse Productions opened their Pandora’s box of horror to bring us hi-concept slasher Happy Death Day.
It turned out to be one of the most pleasantly surprising genre efforts of the year, largely thanks to a star-making performance from the eminently watchable Jessica Rothe, as the sorority house Phil Connors. The box-office backed it up, so here we are two years later, waiting for the campus clock to chime, signalling another round of Babyface butchery and high-school snark. The question is whether Happy Death Day 2U is little more than your standard cashcow sequel, or another dose of enjoyable stalk ‘n’ slash smarts.
Admittedly things get off to a bumpy start, despite the clever presentation of the Universal logo, as the plot repositions Phi Vu’s Ryan as our way in to the story. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the character, he just doesn’t grab you in the same way that Rothe’s bitchy routine did during the original. He’s also caught up in too many moving parts, with the timeloop gimmick feeling stale and seen-it-all-before during the film’s opening twenty minutes. That’s followed by a bonkers plot device which threatens to commit the cardinal sin of a horror sequel that sets about demystifying what was unexplained in part one.
However, such worries can soon be reset when you realise that Happy Death Day 2U isn’t aiming for a simple case of live, die, repeat. Instead, writer/director Landon replaces scares for silliness, turning the dials marked ‘fun’ up to full, and creating a kind of 80s throwback movie, full of weird science and plenty of laughs.
It’s no surprise that the initial clunkiness disappears once the focus shifts back to Rothe’s terrific central performance. Her funny bone is protruding throughout, whether it’s seen in the physical aspects of Tree angrily strutting around scenarios she’s sick to the back teeth of, or delivering fourth wall threatening one-liners, Rothe is the beating heart of the film. She’s equally adept when asked to carry the emotional weight of the story, with callbacks to her mother’s death an integral and affecting aspect of the movie.
Additionally, her relationship with Carter (Israel Broussard) remains a sweet driving force of the plot. In fact the entire ensemble are so incredibly fun to watch, that it papers over the tangled web the film eventually weaves. There’s so much going on, and it doesn’t necessarily stick every single landing it attempts, in particular the film’s final beat, which is so abrupt and underwhelming that it feels somewhat incomplete.
Criticism becomes moot when a film is this much fun. References to everything from Inception and Back to the Future Part II, with a Looney Toons vibe that’s enjoyably infectious, all ensure that Happy Death Day 2U is at least the equal of its predecessor, and put plain and simple, a damn good time at the movies.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt