Film | Happy Death Day 2U - there's nothing scary about deja vu
Just one day after escaping the time-loop that trapped her in a ever-repeating Monday, Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) is confronted by Ryan (Phi Vu), her boyfriend Carter's (Isreal Broussard) roommate, who claims to have inherited the curse -- to be murdered, over and over again, by the Babyface killer. It turns out that Ryan is working on an experimental quantum reactor with classmates Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin), the initial activation of which coincided with Tree's first experience of the anomaly and caused the power outages that had been plaguing campus. Working together, the group attempt to use the contraption to close the loop once and for all -- only for Tree to wake up two days earlier, on the seemingly inescapable morning of Monday, 18th of September.
As surprisingly well-regarded and commercially successful as 2017's Happy Death Day was it is unlikely that those who saw it will be as familiar with the intricacies of its plot as returning director, replacement writer Christopher Landon's sequel assumes. At one stage directly inviting comparisons to Back to the Future II, Happy Death Day 2U makes the all too common mistake of overestimating its own cult status and place in the zeitgeist. The film is forever calling back to previously inconsequential characters or incidents without the necessary context, which creates confusion even before Landon starts tossing new paradoxes and alternate realities into the mix.
Whereas Scott Lobdell‘s script for the first film kept things vague and intuitive, relying on genre convention and audience expectation to easily communicate and cannily subvert his universe’s temporal rules, Landon seems determined to overcomplicate what was a fairly simple concept. Rather than read like a Whovian, timey-wimey tumble through recent history, prone to diversion and distraction but with a clear trajectory in mind, Happy Death Day 2U comes across as chaotic and inhoherent. There doesn’t seem to be any internal consistency to or obvious explanation of the film’s approach to the space-time continuum. It not only spoils the sequel but retroactively convolutes the original.
It's a shame, because for the first act or so Happy Death Day 2U is really quite promising. Ryan makes for an interesting new lead, Tree is granted a novel new role in the narrative and the ensemble is diversified and expanded due to a number of welcome new additions to the cast. However, when the focus of the film shifts awkwardly and inexplicably back to Tree, delegating Ryan to his original background position and robbing him of the character arc he deserved even as temporary protagonist, the film alienates viewers and loses any sense of direction. Poor Broussard, despite playing with different versions of his character, is once again forced to play the same few scenes ad nauseum — a thankless task and an uninspiring watch.
A mid-credits sequence seems to indicate that this may be about to change, should Blumhouse Productions greenlight another installment, but that might never happen — and even if it did, under Landon’s pen it’s likely to be another squandered opportunity. The point of time travel should be to solve problems, not to create them.