Movie Review – Happy Death Day 2U

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EXPECTATIONS: Something lighter and more bonkers than your typical slasher comedy.

REVIEW: Is it just me or are time loops the plot device of storytelling that filmmakers are milking right now? Ever since the time-travel films like the Back to the Future trilogy and the philosophical comedy Groundhog Day have popularized the storytelling device, we’ve had many films on the subject and what is more surprising is that we’ve had five films about time loops in both 2014 and 2017 alone, revolving around various genres.

In the case of horror films, the plot device has been used in amusingly metatextual ways; which is highlighting and paying homage to horror tropes like the slasher motif. Notable examples are films like the underrated Blood Punch, the bonkers Detention and of course, the genial and likable Happy Death Day.

Now we have the sequel to the latter, the amusingly titled Happy Death Day 2U. With the returning creative collective, the cast and the promise that the film will be crazy than it already is, will the sequel live up to its potential?

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Set after a brief time period of the events of the first film, Ryan (Phi Vu) and his friend have been altering time with some “highly sophistimicated doowhackey” [sic] and due to an accident with it, Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) wakes up in horror to learn that she’s stuck in a parallel universe. Her boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard) is now with someone else, and her friends and fellow students seem to be completely different versions of themselves.

And once again, she finds herself once again the target of a masked killer. When the psychopath starts to go after her inner circle, Tree soon realizes that she must die over and over again to save everyone. But during her time in the parallel universe, things that were tragic in her past may not be so tragic anymore.

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It’s quite rare for sequels to be as good as the original, and it’s mostly because filmmakers try to replicate the success of the original by doing the same thing. It’s even more rare for filmmakers to think outside the box when it comes to sequels. In the case of Happy Death Day 2U, you have to give credit to writer/director Christopher Landon to consider the second option.

As to whether the film has succeeded, it really depends on expectations of those who liked the first film. But on its own terms, Happy Death Day 2U is a wildly entertaining sequel that takes an interesting genre detour, that makes the most out of its premise, thanks to its spirited performances, its infectiously fun tone and a strong approach to break outside the norm of mainstream film sequels.

Director Landon knows that the sequel will never replicate the surprise factor of the original film. To compensate, he focuses on relying more on the plot device of time loops and less on the slasher motif. Hence, the establishment of the world comes with more entertaining and mindless possibilities, and for the most part, the film makes the most of it.

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The amusingly meta comedy (with Back to the Future II riffs to taking the piss out of method acting via The Miracle Worker), the time-traveling hijinks (involving paradoxes, references to The Butterfly Effect (the theory, not the film) the mix and subversion of genre tropes are all handled effectively, although there are some missed opportunities (eg. the use of doppelgangers).

Thankfully, we still have the originals and returning actors, Phi Vu and Rachel Matthews are given more substantial roles to do in the sequel and they really make the most of it. Vu manages to combine both the tropes of the stereotypical slacker and nerd roles and fashion it into an amusing and likable performance. Matthews still manages to steal the show with her honed comedic instincts, especially when her character becomes either passive-aggressive or when her character is ripping method acting to shreds.

Newcomers like Suraj Sharma (best known for Life of Pi), Sarah Yarkin and Steve Zissis all handle their parts well, adding to the fun factor; while those who reprise their roles (including those who died in the first film) invest in their roles convincingly, particularly Israel Broussard, who helps ground the film and convince the audience about Tree’s dilemma and the choices she has to make.

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But once again, the biggest reason why the film succeeds is Jessica Rothe. Being enthusiastic and game for anything, Rothe delves into the horror aspects, the drama aspects and especially the comedic aspects of the film with absolute gusto, elevating the film considerably, even if the script lets her down at times.

In the case of its flaws, it all comes down to expectations. For those who are expecting more of the slasher terrain, they will be disappointed, since the film spans towards many genres, including heist films and family drama. Fortunately, even with the heavy tasks of spinning the many dishes, writer/director Landon never sacrifices the tone nor the character groundwork that the first film established. A plot thread involving the presence of Tree’s mother (established in the first film) comes to a fitting and touching conclusion that coincides with the premise and the character of Tree perfectly.

The script may be a bit blatant in its dialogue and especially in its message, but it’s not really a fault in retrospect since the target audience is teenagers, in which the manner of how the message is delivered is quite necessary. And of course, for a film with such an enjoyably silly premise and such storytelling convolutions, there are some lapses in its internal logic (How do Tree’s internal injuries in the first film recover and not be in addition to the injuries sustained in the second film? Where is the prime version of Tree in all of this?) and the thrills are muted.

But the pacing (thanks to editor Ben Baudhuin, who’s worked on enjoyably off-kilter films like Colossal and another upcoming film involving parallel universes, Parallel) is so fast and the script is jam-packed with funny and joyful moments, you’ll have very little time to mull over anything. Thanks to writer/director Landon’s conviction to the story, the metatextual and subversive storytelling, Rothe’s wonderfully spirited performance and the fun performances from the supporting cast, Happy Death Day 2U is a hell of an entertaining ride that takes its premise to greater heights with ample success.

*time loops*

Happy Death Day 2U is a hell of an entertaining ride that takes its premise to greater heights with ample success.

*time loops*

Happy Death Day 2U is a hell of an entertaining ride that takes its premise to greater heights with ample success.

*time loops*

Happy Death Day 2U is a hell of an entertaining ride that takes its premise to greater heights with ample success.

P.S – There’s an amusing mid-credits scene that hints an idea for a sequel. Don’t miss it.

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This review can be also seen at IMPULSE GAMER. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Phi Vu, Rachel Matthews, Suraj Sharma, Sarah Yarkin, Charles Aitken, Laura Clifton, Steve Zissis, Wendy Miklovic, Rob Mello, Sarah Bennani, Tran Tran, Blaine Kern III
Director: Christopher Landon
Screenwriters: Christopher Landon

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