The first Happy Death Day movie surprised me above all measure.
I chose not to see it in the cinema after I was bludgeoned to death by seeing the trailer over and over again in an appropriately Groundhog Day-esque nightmare. I also had to sit through a million trailers for Mile 22, which I will never watch as long as I live, so this isn’t an exact science, but the more I had to sit through the trailer for the sequel, the aptly named Happy Death Day 2U, while also dragging myself through many sub-par Oscar films, I decided that I needed to see something fun. Something ridiculous. Prestige movies had let me down, so why not try something a little trashy in the hopes of finding some decent cinema for once?
Of course, first I had to catch up in the initial Happy Death Day movie – which turned out to be an unlikely joy from start to finish. While it didn’t exactly do anything new with the premise, it understood that a Groundhog Day- inspired time loop of a story story is a character study more than anything else. Here is where Happy Death Day, and Happy Death Day 2U’s biggest strength becomes clear: Jessica Rothe’s fantastic performance as Tree, the scream queen who has to solve her own murder over and over again. Rothe carried the first movie with surprising ease, papering over the more derivative moves from director Christopher Landon by just giving her all, and pulling off the pathos and the comedy in equal measure.
While Happy Death Day 2 U suffers from the typical horror sequel problem – mainly that the novelty of the original premise has somewhat worn off – it more than makes up for this by taking the franchise in a more science-fiction direction as it continues to crib from 80s classics – this time from Back to the Future Part 2; which also happens to be my favorite of that particular franchise.
A bit part from the previous movie, Ryan, played by Phi Vu, makes a great impression with his increased screen-time as a new lead cast member. Creating a machine that somehow started Tree’s time-loop, it has now taken her back to her birthday/deathday, except in a parallel timeline. What follows is basically everything you liked about the first movie turned up to eleven – the comedy is broader, the scares, while still not exactly scary, are better staged, and Rothe knocks it out of the park once again as she infuses Tree with a great deal of sympathy and vulnerability as she is forced into an incredibly hard choice. The story allows for a laser-focus on character and motivation, and a two-movie long character study on a single, compellingly-performed lead trapped in an unthinkable situation lends a surprising depth to what could be just more box office schlock.
So, if you need a palette cleanser after a shitty awards season,you could do much worse than Happy Death Day 2U. Go and see it for me, because if the box office is good enough then I’ll get the sequel that I’m shocked that I already so desperately want.
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By Kevin Boyle
(header image via UpRoxx)