Review: Blumhouse's 'Happy Death Day 2U' is Self-Aware Sci-Fi Fun
by Adam Frazier
February 14, 2019
In 2007, following her breakout performance in Michael Bay's Transformers, Megan Fox was set to star in her next project, a Rogue Pictures horror-thriller produced by Bay. Then called Half to Death, the project was pitched as Groundhog Day meets Scream, with the script following a college freshman who must relive the day of her murder over and over again, stuck in a time loop that will end only when she discovers the killer's identity. For reasons unknown, the studio decided not to move on with the project. A decade later, Blumhouse Productions revived the long-gestating project with director Christopher Landon and actress Jessica Rothe. Now titled Happy Death Day, the horror comedy was a surprise hit, grossing $125 million worldwide on a small $4.8 million budget. A sequel was inevitable after that kind of success. Enter Happy Death Day 2U, an inventive and entertaining follow-up that expands upon the first in nearly every way.
Following the events of the first movie, Tree (Jessica Rothe back again) unexpectedly re-enters a time loop when Ryan (Phi Vu) – her boyfriend Carter's (Israel Broussard) roommate – and his lab partners test out the Sisyphus Quantum Cooling Reactor, a machine designed to prove that time can be slowed down to the molecular level. The resulting time rift sends shockwaves across the multiverse, forcing Tree to live out the same day again and again, only this time it's in an alternate dimension where everything is different, including the identity of the baby-mask-wearing killer stalking her and her friends. Now, with the help of Carter, Ryan, and two aspiring engineers (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin), Tree must stop the Babyface Killer and find a way back to her own dimension.
If the original Happy Death Day was Groundhog Day meets Scream, Landon's sequel is Back to the Future Part II meets Safety Not Guaranteed – a sci-fi romantic comedy that eschews the slasher flick vibe of its predecessor and doubles down on the space-time continuum hijinks. In this new alternate reality, Tree's roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) isn't a cupcake-poisoning, knife-wielding killer – she's a rather well-adjusted medical student. Tree's boyfriend, Carter, is dating her nemesis, snotty sorority president Danielle (Rachel Matthews). Even her family's tragic past is different. Whereas the first film framed Tree as the Final Girl in a horror movie, the scale and scope of the sequel sees Tree as not only a survivor but a hero, tasked with course-correcting the multiverse and the entirety of space and time.
Landon, known for his work on Paranormal Activity 2, Paranormal Activity 3, Paranormal Activity 4, and The Marked Ones, is no stranger to writing horror sequels that retread a strong premise with diminishing returns. Perhaps that's why the filmmaker decided to go in a completely different direction with Happy Death Day 2U, which sidesteps the genre and its conventions in favor of exploring the science (fiction) behind the time loop. The Babyface Killer isn't all that important to the plot this time around, it's more about Ryan's Sisyphus Quantum Cooling Reactor, the movie's version of a flux capacitor, and Tree solving the complicated, Good Will Hunting-esque equation that will send her back to the timeline she belongs in.
Blumhouse's decision to market Happy Death Day 2U as a horror film may create an unfair expectation for audiences yearning for more slasher action. It's like going to the theater in 1985 to see A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, but the projectionist runs Weird Science instead. That's not to say that Weird Science isn't a kick-ass movie – it very much is – but it just doesn't provide the same thrills as watching Freddy Krueger slaughter a bunch of teens at a pool party. I didn't see this budding franchise going the way of hi-tech gadgets and fringe science, then again, I didn't expect the Fast and the Furious series to switch gears from street racing to the tank-jumping, bus-flipping, torpedo-throwing cartoon its become either.
Despite my disappointment in the film's lack of horror, I can't judge Happy Death Day 2U by what it isn't. What it is, however, is an extraordinarily charming and entertaining sci-fi romantic comedy (sequel) with clever scripting and energetic performances from the entire cast. The sequel is more of an ensemble piece this time, with bigger supporting roles for Vu, Broussard, and Matthews, as well as Steve Zissis (of HBO's Togetherness), who joins the cast as Bayfield University's villainous, sweater-vest-wearing Dean Bronson, but it's still entire Jessica Rothe's movie. The emotional stakes are higher, allowing the actress to show her range beyond the delightful comedic anger she wields so effortlessly.
Landon deserves credit for expanding the universe and doing some honest-to-goodness world-building, as well as straddling the line between comedy and science fiction. While the very nature of the story is to be repetitive, Happy Death Day 2U never feels laborious. Landon keeps things moving quickly, one set piece after another, pushing the narrative forward. Much like Back to the Future Part II, 2U is more uneven than its predecessor, but fans of the original movie should relish the opportunity to go back to the fun and absurd dimension Blumhouse has helped create.
Adam's Rating: 3.5 out of 5
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