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Here We Go Again

Jessica Rothe
Jessica Rothe
Universal Pictures
 100 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed by: Christopher Landon
Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard   
Happy Death Day 2U

As the old saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” That saying is especially appropriate in the case of an increasingly popular subgenre of films that’s come to be known as “time loop” movies. In films like Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow, the protagonist is doomed to repeat some length of time over and over, usually until he or she “gets it right.” Director Christopher Landon inserted the time loop gimmick into a standard horror movie set on a college campus, and the result was Happy Death Day, a successful blend of mystery, horror, and comedy that was very aware of all the conventions of the various genres involved. But when heroine Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) finally solves her murder and wraps up the loose plot threads, viewers and filmmakers had seemingly come to the end of the Happy Death Day line.


Never say “end of the line,” however, when a film is successful. In this case Landon (acting as his own screenwriter this time around) figured out a way to make a sequel, and the result is Happy Death Day 2U, with Rothe and most of the cast from the first movie returning, including, surprisingly, a couple of characters who met their seemingly permanent demises the first time around. This may sound like a recipe for cinematic disaster, and the sequel does get off to a rocky start, but the end result has its moments.


Happy Death Day 2U will best be appreciated by those who remember the original film’s storyline well, although Tree does give a brief summary of the salient plot points early on. The sequel doesn’t start with Tree, however; instead, it follows one of the minor characters from the first movie, Ryan (Phi Vu), who is a buddy of Tree’s new boyfriend, Carter (Israel Broussard). Ryan experiences his own final day, ending with his murder at the hands of a killer wearing a baby mask (the school mascot is a baby), and when he realizes what has happened to him, he winds up telling Tree and Carter. Naturally, Tree immediately figures out the explanation for what happened to Ryan and tries to help him out (see e below).


What Tree, Ryan, and Carter discover, when they unmask the killer, is that it’s another version of Ryan from a parallel universe. It seems that Ryan and Carter, along with some of their friends, were performing a physics experiment straight out of Weird Science, which involved one of those movie gizmos resembling a giant Tesla coil that sends out lots of sparks. Of course, the experiment went wrong (as always happens in this sort of movie). When Ryan and the others try to fix things, the experiment goes wrong again, sending Tree to the parallel universe.


Tree finds that the parallel universe is similar but not identical to her own. The killer from Happy Death Day is alive here and a genuinely nice person, and this version of Carter has a girlfriend, Tree’s snobbish sorority sister Danielle (Rachel Matthews). To close the time loop and go back to her own universe, Tree has to help Ryan and Carter figure out exactly how to redo their experiment and solve this universe’s version of the babyface mask villain mystery, thus saving innocent people’s lives. Naturally, all of this entails Tree dying several more times, each of which winds up weakening her, so that, eventually, she only has one last chance to make everything right.


Happy Death Day 2U is indeed more ambitious than its predecessor, combining the time loop trope with another popular science fiction storyline, the parallel universe. Of course, the “science” involved in allowing this to happen is complete nonsense, and the film pretty much acknowledges as much. But combining these two genres also results in a movie that has far more exposition than the original, which slows the proceedings down quite a bit. Tree actually becomes somewhat of a supporting character for the first half hour of the movie, as Ryan, a much less interesting character, takes center stage. In fact, the entire subplot involving Ryan’s experiment, which causes the dean to shut down Ryan’s laboratory, is somewhat stale. Further, the new supporting characters are stereotypical nerds (an Oriental, an Indian, and a brainy girl, all without social lives of any sort) who come across as rejected characters from The Big Bang Theory.


The original Happy Death Day was able to generate a fair amount of suspense, albeit little out-and-out horror, thanks to the PG-13 rating. The sequel carries the same rating, but it is currently less suspenseful, as director Landon cuts down the climactic sequences in the nearly deserted hospital. Further, the identity of the villain in the sequel will be painfully easy to figure out by an easy process of elimination. However, to his credit, Landon comes up with one of the better ways I’ve seen in a long time for finally dispensing of the villain. Still, the action and suspense aspects of Happy Death Day 2U seem more on the level of what you’d find on a basic cable channel.


The main reason to see the sequel, as with the first movie, is the winning performance of star Jessica Rothe. This time around, she has to go through the same character redemption arc she experienced in the first movie, and her learning curve is played for laughs. But this movie introduces some dramatic elements that were not present the first time around, and Tree’s choices are not merely a matter of survival but of making a difficult decision regarding her potential future. In other hands, this entire storyline could have been trite, but Rothe makes it easy to identify with Tree’s dilemma.


In addition to Rothe, Happy Death Day 2U has plenty of self-aware humor that will delight genre fans. The film gives a shoutout to Back to the Future, Part II, and there are plenty of other Easter eggs for fans of such trivia. While on the subject of Easter eggs, once fans see the sequel, they will realize the significance of some minor plot points in the first movie that seemed more or less arbitrary contrivances at the time.


As with any sequel to a tremendously innovative movie, Happy Death Day 2U can’t recreate the atmosphere of novelty and freshness that surrounded the first movie. This is probably the best sequel that could have been made, but it still has too many awkward moments and dead space, especially in the first few minutes. I give writer/director Christopher Landon and star Jessica Rothe a lot of credit for making this watchable, but it’s probably best seen as just a companion piece to the original rather than a movie 2 be judged on its own merits.

In this clip, Jessica Rothe saves one of her friends from the babyface killer.

Read other reviews of Happy Death Day 2U: 

Happy Death Day 2U (2019) on IMDb