Fri, 01 Mar 2019
2017’s HAPPY Death Day was an odd one, a slasher ‘parody’ lacking anything in the way of the satirical toolset that would otherwise qualify it as a spoof – part-Scream, part-Groundhog Day, it was blithe, forgettable, tween-oriented fare that’s best-appreciated as a My First Horror Movie. The kids loved it, of course, so here’s the inevitable sequel, a truly shambolic picture that promises birthday cake and instead delivers dried-up pancake mix. ‘Show, don’t tell’ is a tenet familiar to every aspirant writer, the golden pillar of effective storytelling; 2U, in its infinite arrogance, resolves to break that very rule within its first 20 minutes, explaining away its predecessor’s hook (a college student is forced to relive the day of her murder over and over and over again) with recourse to a needless mythology of time travel (involving parallel dimensions and a machine called Sissy – don’t ask).
The setup, with math geek Ryan (Phi Vu) experiencing his own‘death day’ on repeat, is actually quite nice, but it’s not long before the movie forgets it’s a slasher flick, settling first for lacklustre sci-fi mind-bending (think Terminator, Donnie Darko, Back to the Future) before flirting with gooey rom-com dramatics and utterly unconvincing physical farce. For all its desperation to Do Something Different, Happy Death Day 2U is at its best when it recalls the first film (as evidenced in a pleasingly ballsy suicide montage) – where horror sequels are concerned, that’s always going to be a massive problem.After the aforementioned first-act detour, Jessica Rothe takes centre stage, if only to prove herself as energetic and versatile a performer as she did last time round – Tree, her bratty sorority girl, remains a surprisingly engaging rendition on
a hackneyed archetype, and that’s due in no small part to the fact that Rothe’s so evidently having fun, skydiving in her underwear and tramping around campus with an outrageously stiff upper-lip. By no stretch of the imagination does the film deserve her. Ryan’s mad science experiments dispatch Tree to an alternative reality, where the baby-masked killer from Happy Death Day is still at large – and where her paramour (Israel Broussard) is dating her hyper-snobbish roommate (Rachel Matthews). In striving to balance soap opera and scares, 2U takes the most frustrating approach it feasibly could, relegating the psycho-hunt (and the burning question of the perp’s identity) to the foreground just as it finds little time for character development; several subplots (including one involving Tree’s cardboard cut-out mother) run smack-bang into dead ends.
Indeed, it’s hard to tell precisely what the movie is doing at any given moment – littered with waffle and red herrings, this is the sort of tripe that would’ve gone straight to DVD in days of yore.
In striving to expand the narrative scope of the original, 2U gives us a worthy contender for the title of Most Pointless Sequel Evaaaar. Somewhere in here, there’s a harsh, simple lesson regarding the perils of franchise-building – if it ain’t broke (and Happy Death Day was the absolute height of mediocrity), don’t try to fix it.