Director: Christopher Landon
Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Suraj Sharma, Rachel Matthews, Steve Zissis, Charles Aitken
RunTime: 1 hr 40 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence and Coarse Language)
Released By: UIP
Opening Day: 21 February 2019
Synopsis: Jessica Rotheleads the returning cast of Happy Death Day 2U, the follow-up to Blumhouse’s (Split, Get Out, The Purgeseries) surprise 2017 smash hit of riveting, repeating twists and comic turns. This time, our hero Tree (Rothe) discovers that dying over and over was surprisingly easier than the dangers that lie ahead.
‘Happy Death Day 2u’ was never going to be as fresh as its predecessor, but kudos to returning director Christopher Langdon for trying. After all, it would have been too convenient for Langdon – who takes over writing duties here – to simply find another protagonist to experience the time-loop which our original birthday-girl heroine Tree (Jessica Rothe) was forced to relive over and over again; that is, until she figured out who was behind her murder on that same day. So besides reintroducing the time-loop, Langdon also offers up an intriguing science-fiction twist in the form of multi-verses, i.e. alternate realities where the basic circumstances of each day are no longer the same, including in one dimension where Tree’s beloved mom is still alive.
At first, it may have seemed as if the sequel were content to pass the baton to Tree’s boyfriend’s tech-geek roommate Ryan (Phi Vu), given how it is Ryan who is now stuck in a loop of his own and repeatedly dying like Tree in the first film. Yet that quickly proves to be a red herring, and the (thankfully) brief shift in focus merely to explain how the time-loop was the result of Ryan’s student experiment in the quantum mechanics lab. That machine named ‘Sissy’ (for Sisyphus Quantum Cooling Reactor) proves not only capable of fracturing time but also space, and in attempting to stop his own death, Ryan unwittingly opens up a portal to another dimension where Tree undergoes the same time-loop under dramatically different conditions.
Frankly, you’ll need to be familiar with some of the details of the original to fully appreciate the significance of some of these changes. For one, Tree’s boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard) is dating the sorority mean girl Danielle (Rachel Matthews). For another, Tree’s roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) is the one having the affair with the creepy-sexy Dr. Gregory Butler (Charles Aitken), instead of Tree herself. But perhaps most meaningfully, Tree’s mom (Missy Yager) is very much alive in this dimension, which as you can imagine, forces her at some point to make the emotionally nerve-wracking choice whether to return to the dimension where she came from or stay in the one that she wasn’t originally supposed to belong.
Potentially resonant as that may sound, Langdon’s writing itself however fails to fully deliver the emotional punch which that subplot could have packed. His narrative finds itself distracted along several multiple unfolding threads at the same time, including that where Tree has to uncover the new identity of her babyface masked killer, that where Tree has to stop the unfortunate murder of her roommate Lori, and that where Ryan and his two other lab geeks are desperately trying to get their time machine up and running to send Tree back to her original dimension while dodging the attempts of a disapproving dean (Steve Zissis) to stop them. It is pretty busy all right, and unfortunately when compared to the simplicity (and we dare say, rigour) of the previous film, this sequel simply pales in comparison.
As should be apparent, the plotting hardly matches the conceptual ingenuity of crossing the slasher variation of ‘Groundhog Day’ with some ‘Back to the Future 2’ convolutions (which at least the movie bothers to name-check). Both the tongue-in-cheek and thrilling pleasures that the original offered are buried amidst a whole lot of literally loopy complications, resulting not just in a film that is a whole lot messier but also unable to decide tonally just where it wants to land. Oh yes, it’s one thing to be genre-bending, and quite another to struggle to find the right balance between horror, mystery, thriller, drama, sci-fi and romance, but the latter territory is sadly where Langdon finds himself here.
What holds the film together is unsurprisingly the sheer magnetism of Rothe, who as the film’s centre, is ceaselessly appealing with a sharp mix of dry wit and screwball humour. Nowhere is Rothe’s perfect comic timing more evident than in a breathless montage which sees her creatively killing herself at the end of each day, whether is it drowning herself in industrial detergent or jumping off a skydiving trip in a bikini just to splatter her guts all over Danielle. There is some newfound humour to be had in Ryan’s science nerds, comprising the guilty porn downloader Shamar (Suraj Sharma) and the straight-talking Dre (Sarah Yarkin), but Rothe holds the whole movie together with her energy, verve and charisma.
So yes, it is certainly laudable that the sequel doesn’t simply try to repeat the same formula as its predecessor, but neither does its ambition disguise the fact that it is ultimately a far less enjoyable and entertaining film. In fact, we dare say it loses momentum halfway into the movie, and is almost running on fumes by the time the climax arrives, given how there is almost zero horror or suspense at that point. The laughs are also a whole lot less subversive, almost as if they were deliberately dumbed down in order to admit a PG13 crowd. When the inevitable sequel (as a post-credit sequence informs us) comes along, we hope Langdon simply sticks to the original’s promise of being a horror-comedy first and foremost, and lose all the unnecessary contortions that we’re quite happy to see dead and gone forever.
(Not nearly as inventive as its predecessor, this bigger-but-not-better sequel loses the clever horror-comedy pleasures of the original while spinning its own multiverse complexities)
Review by Gabriel Chong