Monday, May 25, 2020

Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

When we last saw Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe), life was good after breaking out of the time loop seeing her murdered every night.  She'd become a better person, thwarted her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine), who was out to kill her, and started dating Cater (Israel Broussard), the nice guy that helped her break the time loop.  But, rules are rules, and if you survive a horror film that's a box office success, the rules say you're going to end up in a sequel.  Which brings us to Happy Death Day 2U.

I really enjoyed Happy Death Day (see my review here), though it was little more than Groundhog Day with a slasher thrown into the mix.  But the script was lively and, not to dismiss the rest of the cast, Rothe walked away with the film.  She was fun to watch, and it was easy to get caught up in her story.

But at the end of the first film, I felt the story was over.  Sure, we never knew why she was in a time loop, doomed to relive the day of her death, but it didn't matter.  Tree was happy, a better person, and the final scene never gave us a hint that her story would continue.  Only a solid, original script could make another go-round work.  And despite a promising opening, Happy Death Day 2U failed to deliver an interesting story, and just fell back onto what worked in the original.  Sure, the script hints at a better movie lurking around, but doesn't deliver on that promise.

But the opening was great.  Carter's roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) awakes in his car, pushed out of the dorm room so Tree and Carter can have some alone time.  Heading to a lab on campus, he continues working on a quantum reactor, only to have the project shut down by the school's dean for causing several power outages.  Worse yet, he's murdered by someone dressed up as the baby faced school mascot, only to awake in his car on the morning of his death.

Wait, I'm not the one who's suppose to die.
Why don't you pick on that blonde girl?

Realizing he's in a time loop, he tells what's happening to Tree, who has some experience with such a situation.  Tree and Carter formulate a plan to keep Ryan alive by heading to the evening basketball game, assuming he'd be safe from the killer in a crowd.  So the three, along Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin), who are working with Ryan on his project, all head to the gym that evening.

But time loops aren't that easy to contain, and as the gym is evacuated due to a power failure, the killer attacks.  After being captured by the group, the masked figure is revealed to be another Ryan, one from an alternate timeline, who claims their Ryan must die to close the loop activated by his experiment.  But the "original" Ryan panics and turns on the reactor, knocking everyone unconscious.

Like I said, it's a great start.  It doesn't follow the original film and offers so many interesting possibilities for the story.  But, oh wait, this is Hollywood and any sequel must be more of the same, or else the audience might loose interest.  And so they drop everything suggested in the opening to make it as much like the first film as possible.

Oh damn it, here we go again.
Why couldn't the script be just a bit different?

Tree wakes up in the same time loop she experienced in the previous movie, but she's now in another reality.  Carter is dating bitchy sorority sister Danielle (Rachel Matthews), which sours her mood.  But on the plus side, Lori isn't trying to kill her and Tree's mother is alive.

She decides to stay in this reality, but when she tries to keep serial killer John Tombs escaping the hospital and wrecking havoc on the campus, Tree killed by a new killer dressed as the school mascot.  Awakening on the same day, she tells Ryan that he needs to help her stop the time loop, and keep her in this reality.

The problem is, the crew needs to test multiple algorithms, forcing Tree to record their efforts every day, than kill herself to steer them off the wrong path as their work continues.  Oh, remember that little plot point in the original film, where Tree's trauma from her previous deaths are carried over to the next day in the time loop?  Yeah, it was dropped in the original, but comes back to haunt her in the sequel.  Well, about as much as in the first film.

Surprise, I got on this skydiving flight wearing only a bikini.
And now I'm jumping out of the plane.  Hope that's okay with you.

So, will Tree stay in this reality, or return to the one she came from?  Who is this new killer, and why is Lori the target?  And does Tree's multiple deaths result in her inhabiting a body so battered she can't move?  Well, the answer to the third question is no, but you'll just have to watch the film to find out what happens.

As I said earlier, I loved the original.  Rothe was terrific, as she is in this film.  Like Samara Weaving (Ready of Not, Mayhem), I think Rothe will be in some major films soon.  At least I hope so, though I'll be sorry to see her leave the genre.  And the rest of the cast is pretty solid, though Matthews is once again reduced to playing a parody of a character.  Which is a shame, as she's so good that I'd like to see what she could do with a more fleshed out role.

The point is, the cast is not the problem with the film.  It's the script.  Had screenwriter/director Christopher Landon developed the story based on the film's opening moments, the results might have been different.  And, as he directed the original, he has a good sense of the characters, which would have worked in his favor.  But he didn't write the original and it shows, as he attempts to copy Scott Lobdell's ideas without realizing Tree's story was over.

Sure, having Tree's mother alive in the new reality could have set up an interesting conflict, but resolves just as you'd expect.  The script feels like Landon pinned his hope for a sequel on Rothe and, to her credit, she does her best with the material.  But the story doesn't have the impact of the original, as we've seen it before, only now she's committing suicide to keep the team's research moving forward, rather than being killed by an unknown assailant.

Electrocution in the bath tub never makes for 
a good hair day.

Happy Death Day 2U had the chance to be a rare sequel that was better than the original.  Had the film built upon the opening few minutes, this could  have been an interesting film.  But it just becomes more of the same, and much less interesting the second time around.  And the post credit scene is just not intreguing, as you know any sequel will end up with Tree going through the same situation once again.  Just like she's caught in a time loop.

Okay, if anyone thought more science would help this film,
they were just wrong.

If you'd like to purchase a copy of Happy Death Day 2U, or Happy Death Day, consider clicking on the links below.  As an Amazon Associate, I'll get a few cents from your purchase, and I promise it will go towards keeping the lights on at The Shadow Over Portland.