It’s always a risky proposition to stick more than one genre into a blender and expect something good to come out at the end. Two genres? Easy done. A pinnacle of the ‘two-genre’ fare is the horror-comedy category, a tightrope blend of shocks and laughs – think Scream or American Werewolf in London. But, throw a third genre into the mix and you’re on very, very shaky ground. Enter stage left, Happy Death Day 2U – sequel to the highly successful Blumhouse original film Happy Death Day and bringer of third genre, science-fiction to the already joined pairing of horror and comedy. Christopher Landon returns to flex his directing knuckles and give this triple whammy a shot.
Returning to the mix is scream princess Jessica Rothe as Tree Gelbman (a character who gives Final Destination’s Clear Rivers a run for their money with absurd names), the unfortunate soul who had to live a repetitive cycle of being murdered every day until she broke the loop and discovered who her killer was. While she thought the crime had been solved in the first film, Ryan Phan’s (Phi Vu) student quantum physics scientist and his cohorts appear to accidentally drag her back into the loop of living in the world’s worst version of Groundhog Day ever via their experimental quantum reactor. This reactor – named the ‘Sisyphus device’ – causes more than electrical blackouts; it appears to be the cause of the time loop that keeps Tree living the day of her death over and over. Having already had her fill of dying violently, Tree forces Ryan to help restore her natural timeline, and bring order back to her chaotic life.
On the surface, there is a lot going on in Happy Death Day 2U. Initially, it plunges head first into a world of science fiction, overwhelming you with multiple timelines and duplicate universes. Fortunately, you’re not expected to take notes, and before too long the plot kicks into gear as Tree works through frustrations of being back in a traumatic world of endless death cycles. The challenge presented to Jessica Rothe is that she not only has to work through Tree’s frustrations of reliving her death over and over, but also that she has to do so while grappling with the realisation that the world she is trying to escape from has her mother alive, all the while, delivering one heck of a comedic performance.
I know a lot of praise is heaped on Toni Collette’s notable performance in Hereditary, but this masterful performance from Jessica Rothe deserves similar praise. Her ability to exhibit fear, disgust, heartbreak and apathy all at once is truly brilliant and reason for admission alone. Notably, as the climax of the film rolls around and Tree is presented with a genuine dilemma, the anguish Rothe at having to decide which path she should take is relatable and appreciated for how it installs a much needed heart into the mix of this genre fare.
Unfortunately, while Rothe is superb as Tree, the supporting cast is less than stellar with Suraj Sharma’s Samar Ghosh getting the worst treatment as he’s reduced to a woman ogling geek. Sharma was great in Life of Pi, so it is nice to see him working again, it’d just be nice if his character was a little less of a dick. Initially, Phi Vu’s Ryan appears to be the lead this time round, but he quickly shifts into the background as Tree’s narrative takes over. It’d be nice if he were given a bit more central focus, but this is Tree’s story, so to the back of the class Ryan must go.
The other minor complaint is that the plot does feel a little too frenetic to hold onto at times. It’s still exciting, but those three competing genres don’t always mesh well enough. Where the comedy shines, the horror is diminished, with fewer frights than expected. The sci-fi aspect is there, but dealt with in a mostly hand-wavy manner where you can almost hear Christopher Landon say, don’t worry about all this, it’s not important.
At the end of the day, Happy Death Day 2U is a good, entertaining time at the movies. A solid performance from Jessica Rothe centres this mildly manic genre flick. Most importantly, this solid film is another reminder that Blumhouse Productions is quite easily the finest genre-house working today, with an output that will likely rival the great Hammer Film Productions.
Director: Christopher Landon
Cast: Jessia Rothe, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma
Writer: Christopher Landon, (Based on characters by Scott Lobdell)