In the Loop: Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U

It’s a joke now that we’ve all been repeating the same day over and over for more than a year now. I had been thinking about this and also my unapologetic love of time loop movies.

Welcome to In the Loop, a project where I will write about time loop movies (and on occasion, TV shows) once a week.

Note: I will be writing about all of these movies as if you’ve seen them, so spoilers ahead!

Happy Death Day (2017, directed by Christopher Landon)

  • Time until the loop begins: 15 minutes
  • The cause of the loop/inciting incident: MURDER!
  • Number of time loops: 10
  • Lessons learned: Don’t have a jealous roommate

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Tree (Jessica Rothe) is a sorority girl that wakes up in a strange bed on her birthday. She goes about her day only to be murdered at the end of it.

And given that this is a project about time loop movies, she, of course, wakes up in the same strange bed on her birthday once again. Finding an ally in Carter (Israel Broussard), the boy whose room she woke up in, Tree has to unravel the mystery of who killed her before she’s killed for a final time.

Unlike the previous few movies, Happy Death Day is definitely “Like Groundhog Day but only with murder!” (Carter even jokes about this over the end credits.) Tree’s arc from vapid, bitchy sorority girl (although due to Rothe’s inherent gift for comedy and sweetness, she never seems too bad there) to someone who is willing to be open and generous is obvious from the get-go but it’s effective. She even becomes someone who will give the cute boy with cool movie posters in his room a chance (if you guess that’s Carter, you would be right).

This is not that deep of a movie (nor is it that graphic or scary — it’s just PG-13) but it’s a winning entry into the “like Groundhog Day but …” family of time loop movies. The sequence where Tree attempts to solve her murder by going down a list of suspects is a great, humorous montage. At one point, Tree does what everyone stuck in a time loop movie should do — radically change her hair. There’s some stuff about how Tree is sleeping with a married doctor (you see, this is how we know she’s a bad person) and a serial killer, which are good misdirections in the mystery of who keeps killing Tree (and why). Oh, and yeah, it’s her birthday, of course — a birthday she shared with her mother who died.

Tree comes back with injuries after every loop — her doctor lover even says she should be dead! — and this is one of the most interesting but most undeveloped parts of the movie. I liked there was a time limit on how many times Tree could come back because it gives it a sense of urgency a lot of time loop movies don’t have. But other than Tree aching a bit here and there, she comes across as mostly fine.

Other than Carter, who is mostly there to be kind and supportive, none of the other characters are really that developed. Fellow sorority girl Danielle (Rachel Matthews) is even more vapid and bitchy than Tree — and those are her entire personality traits. Tree’s roommate (and killer!), Lori (Ruby Modine) barely has a characterization other than turning out to be “jealous mean girl.”

In fact, that’s the largest misstep of the movie. I suspected Lori fairly early and while the movie does a good job of pointing to some other people, ultimately, it’s pretty disappointing that’s the outcome. Maybe it was meant to be a twist but that it came down to “I hate you because I was also sleeping with the married doctor and he liked you better” is a letdown. I didn’t need this movie to be a feminist statement but it does take away from Tree finding she’s more capable than she realizes.

Happy Death Day 2U (2019, also directed by Landon) picks up immediately after the events of Happy Death Day, but with an initial pivot to the perspective of Carter’s roommate, Ryan (Phi Vu). As it turns out, Ryan and some of his friends were performing some experiments with a quantum reactor and a failure was what originally caused Tree’s original loop. More time shenanigans happen and Tree is thrown back to her birthday, but this time she’s in an alternate timeline. To get back, Tree realizes she’s going to have to help Ryan and his fellow students solve the quantum reactor’s problems so she can get back to her own timeline.

Happy Death Day 2U, while it still has a bit of slasher plot, is mostly just a sci-fi comedy with some playful nods to other movies. I think it’s too highly coincidental for Ryan to go into a dark science lab and hear a noise behind a door in a time loop movie for it not to be a reference to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. I’m also pretty sure the double of Ryan trying to kill the other Ryan is a wink at Timecrimes. Time loop movies pointing at other time loop movies is of course something that delights me.

As much suicide isn’t a laughing matter, the increasingly preposterous ways Tree decides to end her life at the end of each day (rather than be repeatedly murdered) does provide some decent dark humor. I do appreciate that most of what she does isn’t really anything would ever be able to recreate in real life.

I liked Tree’s emotional conflict over if she wanted to stay in that timeline because her mother was still alive. I am also glad Lori some redemption — she’s not a murderous, jealous person in this reality — and Tree was able to offer her forgiveness even if it wasn’t the same Lori.

Last I heard, a third movie is still in the works and I will watch it.

Next week on May 4: Haunter

In the Loop logo by Sarah Burnett. If you’d like to support this project, buy one of my Polaroids.