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February 17, 2019

Happy Death Day 2U

by Franz Patrick


Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
★ / ★★★★

The sequel to the surprisingly creative and entertaining “Happy Death Day,” both pictures directed by Christopher Landon, is correct to bring up “Back to the Future Part II” if only because both works are noticeably inferior to the original. Initially, there is great promise because it is apparent that “Happy Death Day 2U” is less interested in slasher elements and more so in exploring science-fiction ideas such as doppelgängers and multiverses. However, only ten minutes into the film, the writing proves it neither has the intelligence nor the energy, not to mention the focus, to deliver a modern twist on the genres from which it hopes to extract entertainment value.

It is wonderful to see the entire cast again. Each of them is charismatic, from Jessica Rothe as our heroine named Tree who must die repeatedly in order to get to the bottom of the new mystery, Israel Broussard as the geeky-chic romantic interest, Rachel Matthews as the “fun bitch” sorority leader, to Ruby Modine as a homicidal medical student/Tree’s roommate. The problem is, however, that their characters are not given anything compelling to say or do. There are a few wrinkles introduced, particularly in Modine’s formerly villainous character, but the changes are superficial at best. And because the story tackles multiple dimensions, it is strange to ask us to invest in new relationships that do not have the proper background or context within the universe we are visiting.

At least there is a heart to the story and it involves Tree having to choose between going home or staying in the new dimension where her mother (Missy Yager) is alive and well. Exchanges between mother and daughter are mildly touching not because of the script but because of the performances. For instance, when Rothe is required to cry, tears and facial expressions are convincing because her whole being comes alive; we even notice how her hands shake uncontrollably because she is so into the moment. Yager, on the other hand, exudes a maternal strength in every one of her scenes—a quality about the character that Tree sorely misses. And so we understand why our heroine is torn between going back to her world and staying where she doesn’t belong.

The sudden shifts in tone are particularly bothersome. Make no mistake: comedic moments are present in the predecessor. They feel natural to the story, like the utter disbelief and frustration of having to reset the day even when things appear to be going all right. In this limp and uninspired sequel, though, would-be amusing scenarios are so often forced, they are grating on every level imaginable. The sorority sister pretending to be blind in the dean’s office comes to mind. Another example is the romantic interest’s roommate coming across as though he was dropped off from another film altogether. These supporting characters are reduced to boring caricatures.

“Happy Death Day 2U” is a horror film without thrill or suspense. Although it bends toward sci-fi territory at times, there is only minimal commitment to its ideas. One gets the impression that the screenplay had been hurried simply because a sequel must be made as soon as possible out of trepidation that viewers would forget how much fun they had with the predecessor. It is clear that not enough love and effort were put into this project.

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