Movie Review: ‘HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U’ – escapism worth repeating

James C. Clay // Film Critic

HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U

Rated PG-13, 100 minutes
Director: Christopher Landon
Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Ruby Modine, Suraj Sharma, Sarah Yarkin

It came as a surprise that 2017’s HAPPY DEATH DAY was a horror film that would be quickly put into heavy-rotation. The Christopher Landon (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES) directed slasher film with a sci-fi twist has a vicious exterior with a bubbly center led by Jessica Rothe (LA LA LAND), who tore the house down with her performance.

Before we go any further and to keep in spirit with the movie here is a breakdown of the premise. HAPPY DEATH DAY is a film that takes place on the birthday of a college woman named Tree Gelbman (Rothe), who keeps reliving the same day over and over, all the while she keeps getting murdered by a killer in a baby mask. She and love interest Carter Davis (Israel Broussard) must solve the mystery of her killer so she can, you know…quit dying every day. The film lacked in the scares, but is a ton of fun and plays like your favorite pop song. 

The GROUNDHOG DAY gimmick seemed like it ran its course, yet the team at Blumhouse Productions commissioned the duo to come back for HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U, the rare sequel that not only expands the story but outright takes the series in a different direction. Horror fans will still find satisfaction in the creativity at play as Landon’s story morphs into a BACK TO THE FUTURE-style film with a cast of characters that borrow from the John Hughes playbook of teenage dynamics. 

Jessica Rothe (the one without the mask on) in HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U (photo courtesy of Universal Pictures and Blumhouse Productions)

HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U has Tree caught back in the infamous, unescapable Monday the 18th time loop. This time she, Carter, and an adorable cast of college student scientists (Phi Vu, Samar Ghosh, Sarah Yarkin) go on a farcical journey that reveals some powerful moments at times, focusing on the choices we make in life and the pains that come with looking back. Landon keeps the film feeling fresh while jumping from horror to sci-fi, to romance, to comedy, and then leaps into the deep end for an emotional mother/daughter scene. Not all of it works perfectly, but this is a filmmaker taking risks that pay off time and time again and with one very special suicide montage. Yes, that’s right, a suicide montage ™. 

HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U reminds us of the pitfalls that come with time travel on film, but stays an active participant and commits to the story at hand. It comes down to the cast who sell the material. Rothe is a such a good actor in every scene; She’s one of the most fun discoveries to come out of horror, or any movie in recent memory. She possesses the movie star quality you want from a lead of this type of film. She’s funny, she’s cool, and she’s not your typical final girl this series will be a calling card as her career hopefully takes off even further. 

Good popcorn movies are hard to come by and that’s not a slight against HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U as it generates energy that makes it worth seeing with a big audience. Even though Jason and Freddy are scarier and SAW is gorier this is a form of escapism worth repeating. 

Grade: B+

HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U opens nationwide on Feb. 13.

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