By Liam Lacey
Jason Blum's Blumhouse Productions may have produced a trio of Oscar-nominated movies-- BlaKkKlansman, Whiplash and Get Out - but the meat in the company's grinder are such low-budget horror film franchises as Insidious, The Purge and Paranormal Activity, that, occasionally, are more clever than they need to be.
Such is the case with Happy Death Day 2U, from budding horror-auteur Christopher Landon, it’s considerably more clever than required, a movie that metas and self-references and nods and winks so often, it teeters on the edge between mind-bending and mind-numbing.
As the numeral in the title indicates, this is a sequel. The first film, Happy Death Day (essentially, Scream meets Groundhog Day) saw sleepy-eyed blond co-ed Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe, who I can't help thinking should be called Blake Livelier) waking up, repeatedly, in an unfamiliar dorm bed, where a sweetly geeky stranger, Carter Davis (Israel Broussard, who resembles a young Tom Hanks) would greet her before his room-mate Ryan, (Phi Vu) would burst into the room.
Then, "Tree" lived through her 18th birthday repeatedly before getting killed by a slasher in a baby head mask. In each iteration, she learned an important piece of information that allowed her to "solve" her murder and eventually stay alive.
Initially, it looks as though Landon is going to take the easy way out with HDD2U, by simply focusing on a different minor character from the original film. This time, we start with Carter's room-mate, the dyed-blond Asian slacker, Ryan. Because Carter has a girl (Tree) in his room, Ryan wakes up in his car and heads to class — repeatedly, in his own time loop.
Instead of the goof we’d met in the first movie, it turns out Ryan’s actually a kind of an absent-minded genius. The time-loop problems are caused by his thesis project, a globe-shaped sparking machine named Sissy, which he's building for his lab-rat pals, Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin). Sissy must be working because it keeps causing the campus lights to go off and on.
When Ryan tries to explain his chronic sense of deja vu to his friends, original star Jessica Rothe instantly guesses what's going on: Sissy has caused some dimensional time rupture! Quickly, the dialogue clangs with references to "multi-verses" and "algorithms" and Tree finds herself back in the centre of the time-space continuum, if that makes any sense.
Landon, who also serves as screenwriter here, relies on the Ghostbusters model of narrative -- fast-talking scientific-sounding gobbledygook sounds funny and serves as exposition. The upshot is a series of scenarios where Tree, once again, must die repeatedly as Ryan, Carter and their friends try to figure out how to get Sissy to close the time loop.
The balance of elements is fitfully ingenious but also uncomfortably jarring: A montage of Tree's slapstick suicides, contrasted with her emotional struggle to choose between dimensions where different people will live and die. There's a sense that this second feature is less a coherent film than an exercise in muscle flexing that could easily turn into an anthology television series.
Overall, there's more ha-ha comedy than uh-oh horror, but HDD2U did keep me up late worrying: What will be the title of the third film, which is set up in the post-credit preview — HDD3Peat? And what about the fourth, and the fifth, before the inevitable reboot? When, if ever, will Sissy/Blumhouse Productions finally close the time loop?
Happy Death Day 2U. Written and directed by Christopher Landon. Starring Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma, Sarah Yarkin. Happy Death Day 2U can be seen at the Imagine Carlton Cinema, Scotiabank Theatre, Cineplex Yonge-Eglinton and Cineplex Yorkdale.