Friday, February 15, 2019

Happy Death Day 2U - Review

The dark, and somewhat twisted, comedy mixed with horror created a surprising, but ridiculously fun film in Happy Death Day. And due to its low-budget turned solid hit moniker, a sequel was all but guaranteed to be put into development (and if you believe producer Jason Blum, an entire cinematic universe). Sequels are tricky, especially after the first came out of nowhere, but the filmmakers have completely shifted the franchise’s tone and genre to keep things fresh, even if the quality dips along with it.

Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) wakes up in horror to learn that she's stuck in a parallel universe. Her boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard) is now with someone else, and her friends and fellow students seem to be completely different versions of themselves. When Tree discovers that Carter's roommate (Phi Vu) has been altering time, she finds herself once again the target of a masked killer. When the psychopath starts to go after her inner circle, Tree soon realizes that she must die over and over again to save everyone.

Much like the first film, Jessica Rothe gets a majority of the film’s focus. The story revolves around her Deja Vu style curse once more, this time with a twist. The emotional beats all tie to her character’s tumultuous birthday repetition, and the strain in places on her psyche. And she once again absolutely steals the show. It’s shocking that the first film didn’t make her a star on its own, but with a second great performance as Tree, people have to pay attention at this point.

Without hesitating, Happy Death Day 2U trades out the slasher plot for the more complex sci-fi. Gone is the mystery of who the killer may be, replaced by a mission to simply end this time loop that has Tree stuck in place. Some elements work better than others, but the sequel has to be commended for not simply repeating or elevating the plot from the original to rapidly expand the world. Instead, the sci-fi undertones allow the franchise to grow beyond a killer in a baby mask into a time traveling, dimension hopping horror/sci-fi series no one knew they needed.

Losing the horror element is definitely a jarring change, but the comedy steps up and at least attempts to pick up the slack. The repetitive cycle of our character’s lives is played for comedy in new ways, including a montage of Tree’s unfortunate ends that delivers plenty of laughs. What doesn’t help, however, is that the killer reveal is completely unsatisfying given the tease of what came earlier, and is a missed opportunity to keep the over-the-top nature of the entire film going.

Happy Death Day 2U can’t match the original’s freshness, but it still delivers enough comedy to make it a worthwhile endeavor. Jessica Rothe once again steals the show from start to finish, in what should be a star-making role in every sense of the word. The loss of the slasher and horror tones is slightly disappointing, but the sci-fi bent fills the void in enough to give it a pass, and the humor fills in the rest. Though this sequel is a solid follow-up, here’s to hoping this supposed cinematic universe finds a way to incorporate the horror and the sci-fi.

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