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Review: ‘Happy Death Day 2U’ (2019) – A Day to Re-Remember

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Review: 'Happy Death Day 2U' (2019) - A Day to Re-Remember

Sequels are a tricky business. If they don’t do anything new, they risk tarnishing the legacy of the original movie. If they do too much, they risk alienating the first movie’s fanbase. That happens a lot. Especially in horror movies, sometimes it feels like filmmakers completely misjudged what audiences connect with in the first movie. Then the sequel feels so tonally inconsistent, it ends up being nothing like its predecessor. Knowing all this, it feels like a lot of film studios would rather just sit back and crank out bankable, formulaic franchise entries. Even worse, sometimes they’re forced to crap out a movie just to retain the rights to a property (and then we get some of the recent Hellraiser movies).

Bride of Frankenstein is one of the earliest and most successful sequels in horror movie history. And its success is not only measured by box office returns. This is a story that makes sense and is compelling in its own way, while also respecting and extending the mythology of the original 1931 Frankenstein. One of the key factors in making Bride work is the consistency of the talent involved. James Whale is back after four years to direct his own sequel. Boris Karloff is back in the iconic monster makeup. Colin Clive, too, reprises his role of Dr. Henry Frankenstein. It’s this consistency that allows the second entry to really feel like a continuation of the narrative as established in the first movie. We have real growth, too. Dr. Frankenstein, hubristic madman challenging God in the first movie, is humbled here, and wary of his monster. Frankenstein’s Monster, too, has grown in the meantime. He’s learning every day, his elocution is improving, and he’s making friends. Elsa Lanchester is new as the Bride; she’s a key driving factor in the monster’s growth and new desires. Ernest Thesiger is new here too, he plays Dr. Septimus Pretorius, a rival scientist who really instigates our Dr. Frankenstein.So, these are the three things that made Bride of Frankenstein such a success:

  1. You want some consistency, not just in the talent involved, but in the look, the feel, the tone of the movie. It helps greatly to have the same filmmakers and writers involved the second time around. If you’ve established iconography in the first entry, please revisit it with all subsequent sequels.
  2. We should feel at home with our characters, but we should see some personal arcs that show consequences from the actions of the first movie. Too much, and they’re not the same characters. Too little, and it’s like the first movie didn’t matter.
  3. Give us just enough of something new. This is the toughest ingredient to measure in the whole recipe. We want the second movie to be grounded in the same world as the first, but for things to stay fresh, we need new partners, new foils or new motivations.

Now, obviously, there have been plenty of sequels that follow this formula but still end up flopping. And there are incredible sequels that ignore everything but still end up succeeding. But, the surest way to please an audience a second time is by integrating some of those three factors into the new movie.

One of the best sequels of the past ten years in horror is 2019’s Happy Death Day 2U. It feels consistent with the first one. We have the baby mask back, which is great. That’s the poster image and clearly the image most associated with the first movie. If somebody asked you to make a haunted attraction based on Happy Death Day, you’d start with the baby mask. Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) is back in the same clothes, waking up in the same bed, using the same ringtone, again. Carter and Ryan and all of Tree’s sorority sisters are back, too. It’s the same campus, even the same day. Things are almost eerily consistent in this sequel.

Happy Death Day 2U Movie Image

But there’s self-awareness too. Tree knows she’s been through all this before, and she’s pissed. She fought so hard to end the Groundhog Day time loop in the first movie, and now it seems like all that hard work has been undone. But she knows more about herself now, she’s grown a lot since the beginning of Happy Death Day. She’s culled a lot of the B.S. out of her life, and she’s super badass now. Tree has changed. Right now, she’s the only one who is aware of the time loop, but later, we’ll see changes and growth in some of the other characters, too.

What’s new about Happy Death Day 2U is some of the most fun stuff in this movie. We learn that Ryan is a physics student studying quantum mechanics. He’s even building a reactor with his classmates Dre and Samar. These two new characters, Dre and Samar, are really what make this movie feel fresh and different. They’re just enough new blood injected into the story to keep things feeling alive. The plot, while still maintaining the same time-loop structure of the first film, introduces some new folds in the timeline, too. We learn that, now, instead of experiencing the same day over and over and over again like she did in Happy Death Day, Tree is stuck reliving the same day over and over, but in a different dimension. This parallel world is very close to the one she’s used to, but with some subtle and profound differences. So now, not only does Tree have to battle the Baby Face killer chasing after her and her friends, but she also has to decide what world she feels she belongs in. If it sounds complicated, hang in there, because there are characters studying quantum mechanics who do a much better job explaining the science.

It’s rare that a sequel can make its predecessor better, but that’s exactly what Happy Death Day 2U does. It really elevates the first movie to iconic status by showing you how much of it you loved. The first twenty minutes in 2U is like a victory lap. There are all these callbacks and nods to the first film, and they’re subtle enough to make you feel like you’re in on an inside joke. It’s a really rewarding experience. And the references don’t stop at “self-aware.” This is a movie that knows how similar it is to Back to the Future Part II. They address it in the dialogue, and it doesn’t seem like a rip-off. Homages are as tough to pull off as sequels are, and this movie makes both look effortless.

For fans of the first one, fans of sequels, or fans of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff, Happy Death Day 2U is available to purchase on Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV and Fandango.

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