Little call for hurray.
Deja Vu, Source Code, Edge of Tomorrow; what do they all have in common? The time loop, a fiendish plot device that opens up all sorts of exhilarating, hilarious and scary avenues, stemming from the original day restarter, Groundhog Day. Blending this familiar concept with Craven-esque fun, Happy Death Day embellished slasher tropes with inventive, strong-armed direction, led by a star-turn from Jessica Rothe (in my original review of the first movie I wasn’t so kind, but I’m big enough to admit my error). The issue with this niftily titled sequel is its impurity; what was once cheeky is twisted into a genre-traversing muddle.
After surviving the worst birthday of all time, Tree (Rothe) wakes up the next day to the comforting arms of her new boyfriend, Carter (Israel Broussard). Their tranquility is disturbed by Ryan (Phi Vu), who rushes in bewildered, convinced he’s already lived out this day before. Before she knows it, Tree is thrown back into the deadly cycle against the baby-faced killer on Monday 18th; but something is off.
As one ham-fisted reference confirms, into the mix of films Happy Death Day 2U is mashing is Back to the Future II. And with that new core of the narrative, the whole thing falls to pieces. Time travel is tricky to nail. Go too loose with the rules and your movie lacks any cohesion, go too refined and the sense of fantasy is lost. Here we have huge problems with the former. Ryan and his fellow students (which add very little to the experience) have basically constructed a device that allows them to manipulate time in such a way as to open up multiple dimensions.
The rest of the film basically revolves around the group’s plight to find a way to send Tree back to her original dimension; but in order to do that, she has to remember the countless algorithms through inevitable deaths, introduce herself to the whiz-kids, trial the machine, and repeat as necessary. In terms of logic, the staunch disregard for human capability is basically hilarious. Our leading lady isn’t stupid, but she’s not got a photographic memory either. Christopher Landon, in the director’s chair and also taking over writing duties from the former, smarter, less-frills Scott Lobdell, fills out the overlong runtime (at only 100 minutes, you could easily shave off 10 or 15) with nonsensical segments such as this, constructing something increasingly tedious. The tricksy brutality echoes through some scenes, from vindictive skydiving to bleach-gulping, but fades in favour of a more laborious narrative.
Rothe emerges from the corny dross of the screenplay as a new generation’s scream queen. She can’t escape all lows, but her on-screen magnetism is self-evident. In one of the film’s best scenes, she plows her car through a fence in a fire of emotions; the pain, anguish and authenticity she embodies and as a result, evokes from the audience is seriously impressive work. Other cast members don’t fare so well. Charles Aitken returns as the sleazy Dr. Butler and has, literally, one great bit of ultra-cheesy dialogue (“I want a divorce”), Broussard is adequate but nothing to cry home about and Steve Zissis’ Dean Bronson is an excruciatingly cut conglomeration of pestering teachers.
Landon’s direction remains relatively reliable, playing out atmospheric chase sequences on par with the first (with the assistance of an abundance of more cliches though, such as the mysterious floor under construction in a building). They’re pacy and engaging, the muscular but ultimately clumsy handicap of the film’s villain helping to give a sense of unpredictability in any encounter. The cinematography could be stripped down further; Toby Oliver mantles the camera smoothly but often Ben Baudhuin’s frantic editing in both high and low-tempo sequences grates hard, reflecting poorly on the shots.
For such silliness, there is a surprisingly emotional element to it all, and while it would be a spoiler to say exactly; Bear McCreary’s score settles into a more restrained groove after a reckless, ear-twitchingly noticeable start and rises to the occasion in a key, climactic scene that, for a very brief second, really had me.