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With: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma, Sarah Yarkin, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Steve Zissis
Written by: Christopher Landon, based on characters created by Scott Lobdell
Directed by: Christopher Landon
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, language, sexual material and thematic elements
Running Time: 100
Date: 02/13/2019

Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Death Squish

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Horror sequels were never supposed to be very good, but then a movie called Happy Death Day, which could be described as Groundhog Day-meets-Scream, should never have been any good either.

But the wittily-titled Happy Death Day 2U is not only good, but it also manages to deepen the characters that were so silly and lovable in the first film.

The 2017 original focused on college student Tree (Jessica Rothe), who found herself waking up on the day of her birthday, in the dorm room of Carter (Israel Broussard), again and again until she figured out a way to stop a serial killer in a babyface mask.

The sequel, once again directed by Christopher Landon, and this time written by Landon, taking over for original screenwriter Scott Lobdell, begins shortly after.

Carter's roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) begins experiencing a loop of his own, a bad day that culminates in his science project, a quantum reactor, being confiscated by the Dean (Steve Zissis).

It turns out that Ryan's invention was the cause of the time-loop in the first film. Tree has a nice moment when she reveals her disappointment that it was just an accident, rather than a special cosmic occurrence.

A freaked-out Ryan fires up the machine once more, hoping to end his time loop but ends up sending Tree back into another one. This time, however, things are not exactly the same... it's a different dimension with slightly different realities.

For one thing, Carter is dating Tree's fellow sorority girl and arch-rival Danielle (Rachel Matthews). And for another, Tree's mother (Missy Yager) is still alive.

One of the things that makes these films work is that Rothe is actually an outstanding performer, more Meryl Streep than scream queen. She demonstrates an impressive grasp of her character's range of emotions, especially the uncharted territory of a time loop, and the skill to pull them off.

She helps root Happy Death Day 2U in something more human.

The screenplay by Landon (a horror veteran with writing credits on four Paranormal Activity movies) adopts the "and then what happened?" method of writing.

It ramps up Tree's predicament, throwing new obstacles in her path at all times, but it also makes the movie feel a little splayed out, a little "all over the place."

In one sequence, wherein Ryan and his two science nerd pals Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin) try to program their device to send Tree back home, it's up to her to memorize any failed algorithms so that they can try a new one each re-set day.

Landon presents this as a silly little montage, a music video that seems unaware of how cliché it really is.

Perhaps worse, when the crew needs a distraction, they call upon Danielle to play a blind French woman to upend the Dean's quarters and steal his keys. It's like a bad slapstick sequence in a Pink Panther sequel.

The other weird thing about Happy Death Day 2U is that it's really no longer a horror film. It has a few stalker-like moments, but nothing very scary or gory.

It's so busy and silly that it almost forgets from time to time that it has a horror motif.

But Happy Death Day 2U still works because of its core story, and because it feels like something handmade, a little scrappy, but made with enthusiasm and love.

Producer Jason Blum gets partial credit for this. He has amassed an impressive list of interesting and profitable horror films and franchises, including Paranormal Activity, Creep, Insidious, Ouija, Unfriended, and, notably, Get Out.

His policy of keeping budgets low and giving filmmakers more control over their work could save the film industry and make movies a great deal more interesting.

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