Review: ‘Happy Death Day 2U’ (stayin’ alive)

This is how you sequel: with extreme prejudice.

After figuring out the perfect sequence of events to thwart her own murder, Tree (Jessica Rothe) believes that whatever karma enabled her to relive the same day repeatedly has stopped. While making out with her new maybe-boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard), his college roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) bursts in like always… except this time claiming he’s the one reliving the day over again. After a quick recap by Tree, everyone relocates to Ryan’s science lab and discovers a possible source of the original anomaly: a science project gone way off the rails. With the help of lab partners Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Andrea (Sarah Yarkin), the group tries to fix the problem but are of course interrupted at a critical moment, complicating Tree’s life by adding an entirely new dimension to her still-continuing “death loop.”

Director Christopher Landon and writer Scott Lobdell unleashed a cinematic gem two years ago, an ode to 80s slasher flicks combined with the temporal-rewind lunacy of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day. As part of an entirely self-aware production, actress Jessica Rothe stepped up as the main character arcing from self-destructive to self-reliant through sheer force of will. With an original budget so tight it reportedly couldn’t afford to replace a broken phone, the feature ended up grossing ten times more at the box office and greenlit a sequel. Fortunately, the filmmakers already had an idea where to go from there, but is it enough to lure audiences back to watch Tree suffer through an entirely different set of problems and solve them using the same established rules?

Happy Death Day wasn’t perfect; in fact, it left a lot of unanswered questions and dropped a few story points — pointed out in detail by Movie Sins. While unconfirmed, it seems the filmmakers were not only paying attention but game to retcon their work to own them. Whereas slashers and groundhogs inspired the original, it’s Back to the Future this time around, along with more than a few deliberate nods along the way. From familiar music cues — well-delivered by composer Bear McCreary — to obscure details and references only diehard genre fans will catch, Rothe proves her performance as Tree was no fluke, elevating a clever concept into not only a better sequel but that rare follow-up that improves the original film instead of sinking it.

While a hilariously abbreviated recap is provided in-film, the true genius is in the way all the earlier details are mashed up and turned on their heads. To say this another way, you really need to have seen and enjoyed the original film to appreciate how the two bridge together or risk getting completely lost without said knowledge. All the existing roles are expanded and/or in part redefined — such as Ruby Modine’s Lori and Rachel Matthews’ Danielle — including a few genuine surprises. The duplication of the original sets and locations make it feel as though no time has passed, but there are plenty of Easter eggs to discover. The sequel doesn’t feel as though it skimped on the original’s slasher bits — both films are rated PG-13 — but new additions have rebranded the franchise into sci-fi horror dramedy territory.

After an MCU-inspired credits sequence, stay for a taste of what a third Happy Death Day film might entail. It may not be lost on the filmmakers why sequels to similar genre films like Hot Tub Time Machine and even Back to the Future disappointed. Maybe they simply wanted to avoid the sophomore franchise curse or they’re just that good, but in crafting a great sequel to a good film that truly needed none, they’ve set the bar very high for themselves to complete a trilogy.

Happy Death Day 2U is rated PG-13 for violence, language, sexual material, thematic elements, and some serious shit when this baby hits 88 miles per hour.

Four skull recommendation out of four


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