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December 15, 2019   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: “Happy Death Day 2U” is more than just a repeat

Happy Death Day 2U

Blumhouse Productions

Dark comedyslasher film “Happy Death Day 2U,” the sequel to 2017’s “Happy Death Day,” follows main character Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) as she lives the same day over and over again, each time being brutally murdered by a killer in a baby mask. Except this time, Tree is not the crux of the killer’s plot.

The first movie ended with Tree figuring out who the killer was, killing them and breaking the cycle in typical slashermovie style. “Happy Death Day 2U” picks up about ten minutes before the ending of the original, showing the final scene of the first movie from the point of view of Ryan Phan (Phi Vu), the roommate of Tree’s love interest, Carter Davis (Israel Broussard). The film makes it very clear in the beginning that Ryan is now in a time loop like Tree was, as he is brutally murdered by a hooded figure in a baby mask, only to wake up at the beginning of the same day again.

Ryan wastes no time rushing to Carter and Tree to tell them that he is stuck in a twisted version of “Groundhog Day.” Tree, hearing this, naturally flips out — realizing that Ryan is being hunted just like she was — and attempts to help capture the murderer with the help of Ryan and Carter. Together, with the help of Ryan’s friends in the quantum physics lab, the group deduces that the time loops are caused by Ryan’s thesis project, a machine called SISSY. The invention is supposed to slow down time at a microscopic level, but it apparently causes time loops instead.

This revelation, as pointed out directly by Tree, undermines most of the emotional development of the first film. The time loop was not a test from a higher power to help Tree become a better person, as it was implied, but rather just some freak science experiment gone wrong.

In a subversion of expectations, Ryan and the others catch the killer only to find out that Ryan’s killer was himself. This revelation creates a rather confusing end to the first act of the film and brings up entire plot threads that never get seen again. The entire first act seems to only act as a way for the movie to call back to how the first movie was designed. While the other two acts are fine and overall add a layer of depth to the film, the first act does not try to break any new ground or ask anything of the audience.

“Happy Death Day 2U” should be praised for its references to the first movie, as it addresses various aspects that were not touched upon. Many aspects of the first movie are expanded, building on the world more. Watching the original before viewing of “Happy Death Day 2U” makes each of these new scenes more poignant.

The movie introduces a clever twist on the first movie, a plot-point which saw Tree getting closer to discovering the killer’s identity before being brutally murdered each day. Instead, “Happy Death Day 2U” shows the team getting closer to closing the loop, and Tree finding unique ways to kill herself. These shots often feel like they come from a slapstick movie. Yes, this movie is a bit morbid at times, but it adds to the charm, as it still manages to keep a lighthearted tone when it wants to. This can be seen when everyone tells Tree to just kill herself, and the characters all linger on the line, emphasizing its peculiarity.

With each loop, the movie finds creative ways to shoot the same scene so that it still feels new. Maybe Tree takes a different path, or maybe she interacts with an aspect of the timeline in a different way. These changes help alleviate the boredom that can come from watching the same scenes over again in movies like “Groundhog Day.”

After most of the plot threads are brought to a conclusion, the movie ends on a rather positive note. Tree has progressed more as a person — from basic sorority girl who has little compassion for others in the first movie to someone who is unconditionally compassionate, even for people she does not know or like. This is a major step up from where she began, showing that even in a movie about repeating the same day over again, change and growth can be made.

Another questionable aspect of the movie was the soundtrack, which is practically absent throughout the film. The pathetically small soundtrack is only being used as background tracks at different public sets. However, this does not detract from the message delivered in scenes. The movie made the points it needed to make without needing music to set the scene. Instead, the characters set and delivered everything without aid. The actors, especially Rothe, worked their hardest to make the lines feel as sincere as possible, with all the required emotional weight delivered behind them. With the large amount of callbacks to the first movie, “Happy Death Day 2U” is made to be watched directly after the first, similar to the “Back to the Future” franchise. Tremendous acting and worldbuilding more than makes up for the lackluster beginning to the movie and saves this from being a run-of-the-mill, unnecessary Hollywood sequel.

Alex Hartzog can be reached at ahartzog@ithaca.edu