Sequel Feels Familiar But Still Entertains
Happy Death Day, the 2017 mash-up of slasher films and Groundhog Day time loops, put the exclamation point on a year of Blumhouse Productions’ box office dominance. Get Out dropped in February and raked in over $ 250 million worldwide. Happy Death Day hit on October 13th of that year and earned $ 56 million worldwide on a $ 5 million budget, putting a cool $ 50 million in the Blumhouse coffers. A year-end stocking stuffer after the big presents delivered by Jordan Peele’s runaway horror hit.
The good fortune for moviegoers was the fact that Happy Death Day was a blast. It put the fun back in horror. It was an antidote to all the grim-faced, gritty torture porn films where teens are mercilessly murdered and maimed, and a profound ending just means everybody dies. Happy Death Day embraced the time-worn tropes and poked fun at them while simultaneously re-invigorating the genre. There were naysayers (aren’t there always?) who felt the film wasn’t scary enough, and to them I say, Donald Trump was about to be elected president, so the world was scary enough in 2017.
In true horror tradition, the hit has now been followed by the sequel, Happy Death Day 2U. This follow-up certainly gets an A for effort, and while it’s not a fresh concept any longer, it still manages a solid B in execution. In the opening scenes of the film, the sequel actually provides viewers with a “scientific” reason for the time loop from the first film: an on-campus experiment in quantum mechanics and parallel universes caused an anomaly of sorts, resulting in our heroine, Tree Gelbman (Jessica Routh), being forced to live the day of her murder over and over.
The sequel pulls off some nice switcheroos. We spend the first twenty minutes of the film wondering who the main character will be. Is it Ryan Phan (Phi Vu), the brains behind the quantum experiment? Or will the curse of the time loop find its way back to Tree? Given the amazing screen presence and charisma of Jessica Routh, take a wild guess. But, to its credit, Happy Death Day 2U is not satisfied with simply re-hashing the premise of the first film. It gives audiences an interesting twist on the original that I will not reveal here.
In addition to Routh, both films have another secret weapon: a surprising amount of heart. The value of friendships and family take center stage without causing the proceedings to become sappy or maudlin. The emotional ties between the characters gets the audience to buy into the outcome with the added bonus that most viewers will overlook any plot holes because they are invested in the on-screen relationships. Sure things become really contrived (and at times confusing), but everyone on-screen is having fun and so will you if you give yourself over to the film’s wacky premise.
Sequel-itis has been written about ad nauseum, but that is the only real downside to the film. We’ve seen most of this before, and the first film had the advantage of taking us by surprise and exceeding our (low) expectations. The new film entertains while also feeling a bit familiar. But in the dog days of February, you could do a lot worse at the theater.