IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 100 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
After breaking the time loop and returning to her everyday life, Tree expects some peace, but this is soon shattered when her friend Ryan realises he’s now trapped in his own time loop, an event triggered by a dangerous science project on quantum energy he’s been working on, which has created multiple universes. When Tree tries to solve the time puzzle, she’s sucked back into her previous birthday loop, returning to the nightmare she fought so hard to escape. However, she’s now stuck in an alternate universe where her almost-boyfriend Carter is dating sorority b**** Danielle, her deceased mother is now alive, and Lori certainly isn’t the mascot masked killer.…
I guess it largely depends on that word ‘explanation’. While it did eventually tell us who its killer was, the Scream/Groundhog Day hybrid Happy Death Day didn’t bother whatsoever to explain why Tree kept on reliving the same day over and over again after she was murdered. And, while that film did have its issues, said lack of explanation wasn’t really one of them. After all, the reasons as to why strange things are happening in movies can often disappoint. But with this sequel, director Christopher Landon, who’s also promoted himself to screenwriter, decided to do something quite brave: explain away the nature of Tree’s predicament – and in the process expand the possibilities and the universe of this franchise – in the film’s first section, in the process moving things into science-fiction. You have to admire his cheek. Unfortunately the time-looping mumbo jumbo isn’t anywhere near as smart as it thinks it is, and even to someone like me who isn’t a science person and for whom terms like quantum physics send me to distraction despite my love of time travel flicks, there are some eye-roll worthy plot contrivances later on that are there to move the story forward. We aren’t even given any rules, which of course means that Landon reckons we won’t mind when stuff happens randomly. The first film made no attempt to require you to think. This one seems like it does at first, but soon after that you realise that hardly anything in it makes any sense at all so you wonder why they bothered.
Weighing everything up, Happy Death Day 2U [the horrible dumbing down of movie titles to text-speak sadly continues] overall isn’t quite as bad as the previous few sentences of this review may suggest, but the large amount of simply terrible plotting is certainly a major problem. Happy Death Day, my full review of which you can read here, was fun viewing, and certainly had some very likable aspects such as the evolution of its heroine, while the killer was much better hidden than tends to be the case in these things even if the reason given for the slashing was pretty ridiculous. However, it lacked much of the imagination that its terrific premise deserved, its horror scenes – even allowing for the ‘PG-13’ rating stifling any graphic bloodshed – had little edge [except for that brilliant melding of terror and chuckles in that scene in the room with the mini disco] and relied far too much on BOO moments, whole the whole thing was rather too jolly in a somewhat crass way considering that one of its major themes was fear of death. However, I cannot deny that is was perfectly pitched at its target teen audience and knew it would be a big success. The follow-up manages to be oddly both more serious and more comical, if that makes sense. The tone is generally even lighter right from the start, but some of the slash moments are more intense even if there’s less of them, while there’s also a strong emotional dimension involving Tree’s two main relationships in the film which provides some genuine heart, even if the film is so frantically paced that it sometimes seems to be ashamed of all this sentimental stuff – and when I say frantically paced I really mean it, with the film jumping forward so frequently and scenes tending to be so short that it almost feels a bit of a blur at times.
So we’re back at the same day again, and Ryan is still lurking outside Carter’s room, though this time Bree and Carter are making out and the person we follow down the street and across the college campus, encountering all the folk we’re familiar with from film number one, is Carter. This is a nice switch and I began to wonder if the film would suffer when things switched back to Bree – though I only wondered this for a minute or so, because Phi Vu’s delivery is really wooden and he’s nowhere near as amusing as Landon obviously thinks he is. But then again some of the other cast members seem to have been asked to play their characters more for laughs. Lead Jessica Rothe, who was superb in the first film, is required to mug rather too much at first, though fortunately this does diminish. Bree of course believes Ryan’s story immediately, even when he says that his science project called Sissy – something which the Dean wants to shut down because it’s caused problems such as lights going out – may have been responsible for this. They set out to stop serial killer John Tombs from escaping as he did previously. There’s a good moment or two at a baseball game full of people wearing the same mascot masks as the killer, and at the hospital, Bree kills somebody in the familiar freaky mask – which turns out to be another Ryan! However, I’m going to point out right now that this doppleganger thing never happens again, so when Ryan fires up Sissy again and an explosion propels Bree into another dimension, there aren’t two Trees. And we’re back to Bree being the only one affected by Sissy despite being us previously told that it can affect others! You wonder how Landon was able to direct some of the stuff he wrote.
Yet it’s hard not to be involved a bit when Bree is surprised to see her supposedly dead mum, with whom she wasn’t close, alive, Ryan being involved with Danielle, and Lori the first film’s killer getting murdered, among other surprises including some total character makeovers. Tree agrees to a plan in which she’ll repeatedly die so the team can test the algorithms necessary to make the time loop closure work and she can get more and more knowledgeable about the details. Suicide isn’t generally something that films tackle for laughs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some viewers find scenes like Tree electrocuting herself with an electric hair dryer and then waking up with her hair all over the place to be in poor taste. I can’t say I minded much, and even laughed when she jumped out of a plane in a bikini. This almost made up for having a killer who hardly kills anybody, and I was far more bothered by the inconsistency of Tree’s actions. In the first film, the more she dies, the weaker she becomes, even if this got forgotten about towards the end. Therefore, it seems ridiculous that Tree would agree to continually dying considering that it could eventually kill her permanently, though then again we don’t get much of a sense of someone getting weaker and weaker, which means that it’s therefore difficult to be concerned. Things are rather touching though in the bits with her mother – if only the film had the courage of its convictions here and allowed these scenes to play out like actual scenes rather than more like snaps of one. Despite character relationships taking precedence over who-dun-it, throughout it seems like Landon and co. were absolutely determined that no viewer would be tempted to gaze at their phone while watching the movie. I guess it’s a commendable thing, especially to someone like me who’s had people thrown out of screens for doing this supremely irritating act, but it’s resulted in something that often feels like edited highlights of a film rather than an actual one. It’s a bit like 2017’s dire Wish Upon in this respect, though this does have a bit more going for it.
What with Back To The Future 2 being an obvious influence and there being distinct whiffs of Real Genius and even The Big Bang Theory, while the central conflict ends up being Tree’s struggle with the decision to either stay in this alternate reality that she’s growing attached too or to go back to her real life again, it’s easy to forget in places that there’s also a killer on the loose. However, when he or she is featured there’s usually more of a feeling of fear than before, and one scare involving the killer suddenly appearing behind someone in a cupboard provides a real good jolt, though otherwise jump moments are absent. The revelation of the murderer will probably still be a surprise, though the film also throws in a second killer or person in on the plan though fails to properly explain this second person’s involvement – though by now you’ll be stupid to expect anything in this movie to be explained. But their are some nice character arcs, and the first film’s pleasing main message of “be nice” is slightly modified to something more like “help others”. It’s a pleasant surprise to find supposedly hip and trendy teen-orientated movies that have more than a touch of cynicism about them to also appear to promote friendliness and generosity. And, after the goofiness of her early scenes, Rothe soon regains much of the strength and balance that characterised her previous performance, really selling the required emotional beats when she has to.
Perhaps less visually stylish than Happy Death Day but with another really loud, full-on score from Bear McCreary [albeit one that sometimes feels the need to provide music for would be comic moments, probably in an effort to make them funny], Happy Death Day 2U really shouldn’t work at all considering how its plotting is so random and how little seems to have been thought through, but there’s almost something crazily admirable about its complete disregard for any sense. The end credits stinger is a good one, expanding things just a bit more to make me, crazy though I may be, intrigued enough by that possible third film that’s already been mentioned – though I hope that Landon gets somebody to help him with the script next time, even though he apparently already has a story in mind. I have the feeling that this film, which hasn’t been marketed very honestly, is being liked by more viewers who aren’t especially into their horror than those that are, because there are really are sections when it seems we’re watching a time travel movie or even a darn sitcom instead – and not a very good one at that. A gag in which one character dresses up as a blind French woman is a real low point, and not because some sensitive types may find it un-PC . It’s the sort of comic scene that you laugh at anyway because it’s so bad in its staging and its straining for laughs. A few good points, lots of bad ones, and a general air of making it up as they went along makes for a very patchy, tiring if hardly unpleasant experience overall.