Just as much of a surprise as the delightfully twisted original – 2017’s Happy Death Day – Happy Death Day 2U is revelatory not because it improves on its predecessor’s horror temperament, but because it completely bypasses the slasher genre trope and cements itself firmly within the grounds of science-fiction.
Given how much fun writer and director Christopher Landon had with his time loop setting in the first film, one would understand if he chose to merely re-create it (as is may sequels tend to do). Showcasing his will in risking a proven formula (the first film netted $125m worldwide off a $4.8m budget) Landon opts to begin the movie focusing on a support player (Phi Vu‘s Ryan) and their own time-loop situation which mimics that of original heroine Tree (Jessica Rothe).
The first film didn’t delve into the scientific logistics of how it was Tree was re-living the same day over and over, being savagely murdered each time only to wake up at once confused, determined and, over time, increasing pain. Here, Landon amps the creative crazy up to 11 by introducing Ryan’s pet science project – a creation of sorts that has the ability to alter time – and two of his quantum mechanic-enthused friends (Suraj Sharmar and Sarah Yarkin) as Tree’s accomplices in helping her, once again, break the killer time cycle; this time around there’s a new villain on the hunt (same mask, different suspect), a college Dean (Steve Zissis) determined to shut their project down, and an increased focus on Tree’s bitchy sorority sister Danielle (Rachel Matthews), who’s relationship with the group is drastically altered when they enter an alternate time dimension.
If it sounds like a lot to process, it very much is, but that’s practically where all the fun with Happy Death Day 2U lies…well that and watching Matthews’ shrewd Danielle get in on the action in one sequence where she attempts to distract the Dean from interrupting Tree’s umpteenth attempt at returning to her natural timezone by pretending she’s a blind Frenchwoman (you just have to watch for the full comedic effect).
If Groundhog Day was a type of spiritual inspiration for the first film, then the Back to the Future trilogy is arguably this sequel’s muse, and whilst Landon doesn’t always entirely stick the landing in terms of his tone (ironically the film’s horror elements feel the least organic), he succeeds off the fact that he’s altered this film series so drastically yet maintained its sense of humour; the countless (bloodless) death scenes we see Tree involved in, most a result of her own doing, keeps the over-the-top mentality of the original for the fans to indulge their senses.
Ultimately though it’s Rothe who serves as the film’s most valuable asset. An absolutely magnetic screen presence (why are we not seeing her in more projects?!?!), she has an innate ability to project both a relatable vulnerability and a biting wit, and whilst her co-stars suffer due to Landon’s script favouring her character, it’s difficult to argue with his choice given how electric she appears on-screen.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Happy Death Day 2U is screening in Australian theatres from February 14th 2019.