While there were indisputable flaws in 2017’s gimmicky slasher revival ‘Happy Death Day’, it was hard to knock the film’s puppyish energy, earnestly zipping along with such speed that one almost forgot just how ramshackle its foundation was.
The central premise, which saw a cynical college student trapped in a Groundhog Day-esque time loop of death, was spiky enough to lure its target demographic back to a subgenre they’d been ignoring for a solid decade, carving up an impressive $125 million (Dh459 million) worldwide from a budget of less than $5 million, and making a sequel seem like an instant inevitability.
Less inevitable was just what form a sequel would take and as the snappily titled ‘Happy Death Day 2U’ begins, it appears that we’re stuck in another character’s death loop. This time, it’s the roommate of the guy who the heroine from the original almost slept with at the start and if that’s not enough to give you a headache then just wait for what comes after.
It turns out that the time-loop of the original film, that saw Tree (a spiky, engaging Jessica Rothe) get repeatedly murdered, was the result of a campus-based science experiment gone horribly wrong, answering a question most of us were happy not to ask (did we need to know why Bill Murray was stuck in Punxsutawney?).
Through a scrappy set of circumstances, this tech then results in Tree returning to her original death day, yet one within an alternate universe that requires her to not only find out who the new killer is but also figure out how to return home.
Despite the repetitive nature and nifty conceit of ‘Happy Death Day’, envisioning a sequel still felt like a stretch. After watching the follow-up, it would appear that the writers were feeling similarly stuck, its haphazard script reading like the result of a drunken wrap party brainstorm, half-jotted on to a napkin.
Initially it’s tempting to praise a certain level of unpredictable audacity with an opening that deliberately wrongfoots us and a Scooby Doo-esque goofiness that sees the writers go all in on a barmy new premise. But patience wears thin as plotting rapidly disintegrates, revealing a wildly convoluted mess, maniacally shifting tones and failing to provide any of the sleepover slasher pleasures of the original.
Writer-director Christopher Landon has made a staggering misjudgment in how much he believes we’ll invest in the paper-thin characters from the original. Rather than using them as doomed chesspieces, as say a ‘Final Destination’ sequel would, he tries to tack on a shallow attempt at emotional depth, the film often straying into laughable sentimentality when it’s not devolving into deeply unfunny farce.
In fact, there’s almost an entire genre shift away from slasher horror to some sort of sci-fi comedy drama, with relatively few kills and far more time spent on teen conflict despite the film’s lead being played by a 31-year-old actor. It’s almost as if Landon didn’t trust his audience to engage in a slasher for a second time, edging the film away from ‘Scream’ and closer to ‘Back to the Future’.
As the film progresses and the plot continues to contort itself into new, even dumber directions, it almost becomes a blueprint for how not to make a horror sequel. It’s a genre that typically does lend itself to franchising but everything about ‘Happy Death Day 2U’ feels ill-advised and half-wrought, with overcomplicated jargon flung around in order to disguise the unavoidable emptiness at its centre.
Last year’s surprisingly wonderful, and surprisingly necessary, ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ dealt with a multiverse conundrum effortlessly and just two months later, we’re trapped in similar territory without a skilled hand guiding us through. Everything that film did well, this one fumbles.
The original’s nimble touch has been replaced with a strange grandiosity, showcased quite embarrassingly in an unbearably self-satisfied post-credits sequence informing us that the proposed third film will be heading into even grander territory. Answering questions that didn’t need answering in the first place and continuing to overcomplicate a relatively simple premise, ‘Happy Death Day 2U’ is the worst kind of sequel, the staggeringly unnecessary kind that even the most hardcore ‘Happy Death Day’ fans should avoid at all costs.
‘Happy Death Day 2U’ releases in the UAE on February 14.