Some spoilers ahead…
It starts off in a car, early one morning. Ryan Phan (the obnoxious Asian dude from the first movie who was just interested to know if his friend, Carter boned Tree Gelbman) wakes up clearly disgruntled and walks towards his varsity dorm room. On the way, he bumps into a chirpy old lady walking her dog, an enthusiastic young girl trying to get people on campus to sign her save-the-world petition (most of whom ignore her) and a dude playing the trombone in the corridor. Ryan knocks on the door of his shared room to find the now happily together Carter and Tree making out. They tell him to get out.
He stomps towards the science lab where he meets up with his two quirky science buddies and discusses the issues concerning the pet project they’ve been working on — a thingamabob that can mess with the space-time continuum (look, I’m not nearly as smart as these people, ok?). The uptight dean that seems like he has his underwear wedged up his arse walks in angrily and tells them that he’s shutting down their project. Later, as Ryan is walking down the quiet hallways of Bayview University, he’s brutally murdered by a man in a mutated baby mask. The clock resets and he wakes up in his car again.
If your immediate thought is that Happy Death Day 2U is shaping up to be a lazy rehash of its surprisingly enjoyable predecessor, you’re not alone. The characters in the movie seem to think the same way too. Tree wonders why this shit is happening again but figures that the only way to end the loop is if Ryan catches and kills his killer with the freaky mask. So our characters begin their hunt. Same old, same old. But Christopher Landon (who also helmed the first movie) has something else hidden up his sleeve. But first, we have to endure opening sequences which are nothing but a cheap plot device.
The space-time continuum thingamabob (they call it sissy) is retconned into the “lore”. But I’m not going to harp on it too much since it’s done so we can get to Landon’s new idea — parallel universes. If the first film is a wink at Groundhog Day, this one is a nod to Back to the Future 2 (characters actually reference the Robert Zemeckis classic). Trust me, the movie is even more ridiculous and nonsensical than I make it out to be. But it works (for the most part)!
It works because Landon understands, just like the creators of CW’s Riverdale understand, that a ridiculously absurd narrative can work if you wear it proudly on your sleeve. And, if you’re willing to laugh at yourself. Happy Death Day 2U does both. It’s committed to being a piece of pop candy. Now, candy isn’t exactly what you’d call a nutritious delicacy, but it sure as hell tastes good. Here, the nonsense is dialled to eleven, but Landon’s direction is sleek and everything’s framed so slickly by Toby Oliver (expect nothing less from the dude who lensed Get Out). This includes the numerous slasher sequences which are cheap but fun and is sure to give horror junkies a bang for their buck.
At one point, Tree, now in an alternate dimension, and her gang of nerdy misfits decide that it’s best if she just kills herself instead of waiting for the killer to come hunting. This leads to a ludicrous montage sequence where Tree goes Final Destination on herself — she drops a hair dryer into her tub while taking a warm bath, she jumps off a building, ingests detergent and even goes skydiving without a parachute, wearing only a bikini. Why bikini? Cause why the fuck not? Characters constantly throw snappy lines at each other and the soundtrack is a pop-y as it gets.
But simmering underneath its unabashedly wacky surface is a moving story about love and choice. If the first movie was about looking backwards and inward, self reflection and becoming a better person in the process, this one’s about moving forward. I remember a conversation I had with a close friend of mine a couple of weeks ago. If you had the ability to go back in time and change something; to right a wrong perhaps, would you? Would you say, study harder for an examination you failed, causing you to be a year behind most of your peers? The simple answer is yes.
Now, imagine living most of your life without your mom. And then one day, you’re tossed into a parallel dimension with your current memories, but everything and everyone around you is different… including your mom who is alive and well. But here, your boyfriend who you care for dearly is dating someone else. Would you stay in this dimension or go back, where your mom is gone but your lover is yours? Some might say it’s an easy pick. But Happy Death Day 2U makes you contemplate. It offers a more nuanced discussion by asking the question: what really makes you, you? Whether or not you agree with Tree’s decision is for you to ponder. Perhaps it isn’t just candy then. It’s swiss made milk chocolate.
Blumhouse is known for making horror flicks for a budget of two fist bumps and six-pack. Its films, as far as quality is concerned range from award-winning motion pictures (Get Out) to absolute crap festivals (Amityville: The Awakening). The Happy Death Day franchise is neither. It’s simply and absolutely popcorn fun, but also slightly more. It’s rare for horror sequels to outdo their originals, but Happy Death Day 2U has succeeded in doing just that, despite its occasionally convoluted beats (let’s just say that if you choose to look at this as pure sci-fi, many of the details aren’t gonna add up).
Some of it has to do with Jessica Rothe’s portrayal of Tree. She brings the right amount of feistiness, woundedness, vulnerability and charm to her role — a rarity when it comes to hot chicks in slasher flicks. A lot of it has to do with Christopher Landon who took what should have been a cheesy, cringey, eye-roller of a conceit and turned it into a pop-y, over the top teen romp that is a delight. It’s also the best movie to bring your date to this Valentine’s. Who would’ve thought?
Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Simmering underneath its unabashedly wacky surface is a moving story about love and choice. If the first movie was about looking backwards and inward, self-reflection and becoming a better person in the process, this one’s about moving forward.