Film Review: Happy Death Day 2U (dir by Christopher B. Landon)


I have to admit that, when I first heard that Blumhouse was going to be producing a sequel to 2017’s Happy Death Day, I wasn’t surprised.  After all, every successful horror film gets a sequel.  That’s just the way the business work.  However, I will admit to being very skeptical.

I mean, the first film was a genuinely clever and witty mix of Groundhog Day and Scream.  It was often laugh-out-loud funny and, in a perfect world, Jessica Rothe’s lead performance as Tree Geldman would have been nominated for, at the very least, a Golden Globe.  It was also a surprisingly effective horror film.  The Baby Face Killer was as frightening as she was ludicrous.  Still, at the end of the film, it was hard not to feel that Tree’s story was finished.  When I heard there was a sequel, I was like, “What?  Is she going to start reliving a second day with a new killer over and over again?”

Well, it turns out that I was partially correct about the plot but I was pretty much wrong in my skepticism.  This is a sequel that works surprisingly well.

In Happy Death Day 2U, Tree once again finds herself having to live September 18th over and over again.  However, this time, it’s not just so Tree can become a better human being and discover who is targeting her.  This time, we actually find out why Tree ended up stuck in that time loop in the first place.  It turns out that Carter’s (Israel Broussard, returning from the first film) roommate, Ryan (Phil Vu), has built some sort of experimental quantum reactor and, whenever it’s turned on, it can create time loops and send people to alternate realities.  It’s all very science-y and director Christopher B. Landon is smart enough not to spend too much time lingering over all the details.  Everyone in the film agrees that quantum reactor does what they say that it does and that’s really all we need to know.

Anyway, Tree is once again reliving her birthday but now, she’s reliving it in an alternate reality.  That means that there’s a bunch of little difference to deal with.  For one thing, even though someone is still determined to kill her, it’s no longer her roommate, Lori (Ruby Modine).  For another thing, Carter is now dating the wonderfully shallow Danielle (Rachel Matthews).  Perhaps the biggest change of all is that Tree’s mother (played by Missy Yager) is still alive in this alternate reality.

Not wanting to lose her mother for a second time, Tree decides that she wants to stay in this new reality.  But, to do this, the time loop that was opened by the big science thing needs to be closed.  Otherwise, Tree is going to be doomed to keep reliving the same day over and over again….

And it get even more complicated from there.  Happy Death Day 2U is an extremely busy film, mixing Back To The Future-style science fiction with the Groundhog Day/slasher film plot of the first film.  And yet, surprisingly, the sequel actually works really well.  If the first film was a horror film with elements of comedy, this sequel is a straight-out comedy that cheerfully satirizes both the horror and the science fiction genres.

Jessica Rothe gives another wonderful performance in the lead role.  Her fury upon discovering that she’s going to have to relive September 18th all over again is both funny and relatable.  The film’s emotional heart is found in Tree’s relationship with her mother and the scene where Tree discovers that she now has pictures that document years of new memories with her mom is wonderfully played Rothe and is one of the best in the film.  That scene brought tears to my mismatched eyes.  I lost my mom a little over ten years ago so, in that moment, it didn’t matter that there was a Babyface Killer out there or that there was some sort of quantum reactor doing something.  At that moment, I knew exactly what Tree was feeling and the movie’s emotions became very real.

Happy Death Day 2U took me by surprise.  While it may not have the freshness of the first film (and really, that’s to be expected when it comes to sequels), it’s still a heartfelt and entertaining mix of comedy, horror, and science fiction.  Unfortunately, it did not duplicate the first film’s box office success so it may be the final Death Day film.

Then again, Tree’s earned a few days off….

Horror Film Review: Happy Death Day (dir by Christopher B. Landon)


So, imagine this.

You’re a college student.  You’re a member of a sorority.  You start your day by waking up in a stranger’s bed, with a hangover.  When you walk across campus, you blow off the girl trying to get you to sign her anti-climate change petition.  When you get back to your sorority house, you’re rude to her roommate and refuse to eat the birthday cupcake that she made for you.  You body shame a girl at lunch.  You’re sleeping with one of your professors.  You’re rude to your father.  You’re going to a party.

Oh!  And did I mention that you’re in a slasher film and that there’s a really creepy figure wearing a baby mask who is following you around?

Seriously, you are so dead.

That’s the situation that Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) finds herself in 2017’s Happy Death Day.  It’s her birthday and, unfortunately, she’s murdered at the end of it.  Of course, if you’ve ever seen in a slasher film, it’s not a shock when Tree dies.  She’s the quintessential self-centered girl who always gets killed in these type of movies.

(For the record, I would probably die within the first ten minutes of any slasher film.)

However, in Tree’s case, she gets another chance.  And then another one after that.  And then, another one after that… every night, Tree dies.  Every morning, Tree wakes up in the dorm room of Carter Davis (Israel Broussard) and she has to relive the last day of her life all over again.

To the film’s credit, it doesn’t take long for Tree to realize that she’s in a time loop.  (Also, to the film’s credit, Carter specifically points out that Tree’s story sounds exactly like the plot of Groundhog Day.  “What’s that?” Tree asks.  Carter explains that it’s a film with Bill Murray.  “Who’s Bill Murray?” Tree replies.)  Once Tree figures out that she’s going to have to keep living the same day over and over again, she sets out trying not to die.  She doesn’t go to the party but that just means that the killer comes to her.  She tries to spend a day barricaded in her dorm room, just to find that the killer is hiding in a corner.  She follows the various suspects around as they go about their day.  It seems like no matter what she does, she can’t keep the killer from catching her.

On the plus side, as a result of having to deal with the same crap over and over again, she does become a better person.  She’s less rude and condescending.  She grows more confident in herself and stops worrying so much about what everyone else is going to think about her.  Of course, becoming a better person isn’t going to do her much good if she keeps dying every night….

Happy Death Day is a clever combination of horror and comedy.  It’s a movie that’s smart enough not take itself too seriously.  Even when Tree becomes a nicer person, both the character and the film retain their sarcastic edge.  Even when she learns to face the world with positivity and happiness, the film seems to be gently mocking the ease by which film characters can go from being self-centered to thoroughly altruistic.  Meanwhile, the killer may be frightening but again, the film mines plenty of dark humor from the character’s pure determination.  No matter Tree does, that killer eventually shows up.

It’s a precarious balancing act, trying to be scary and funny at the same time.  Fortunately, Happy Death Day benefits from a clever script and a good lead performance from Jessica Rothe.  Rothe gives an intelligent and empathetic performance as Tree.  It’s impossible not to sympathize with her frustration as she wakes up to discover that she has to go through the exact same day yet again.  It’s a sign of the strength of Rothe’s performance that you sympathize with Tree even before she becomes a nicer person.

Happy Death Day is a clever film and one that I’m surprised to say I missed when it was originally released.  If you also missed it, now’s a great time to catch it!

Let’s Talk About Trailer Park Shark (dir by Griff Furst)


Oh hell yeah!

Listen, if you ever find yourself being unexpectedly menaced by a shark, you’re going to want a redneck around.  Trust me on this.  I may not be one myself but I’ve grown up around rednecks and I feel a lot safer around them than I do with sensitive types from up north.  Seriously, if you’re under shark attack, who do you want protecting you?  A guy with a gun and a cooler full of beer or someone who drives a Prius?  Elon Musk may be smarter but, when it comes to sharks, Trace Adkins is going to be more helpful.

The other great thing about rednecks is that there’s nothing that they can’t do with duct tape.  Give a redneck enough duct tape and a weather satellite and I guarantee that he’ll find a way to stop climate change.  There’s a name for that: redneck ingenuity.

When I was watching Trailer Park Shark on Wednesday night, I was impressed with the amount of duct tape on display.  As the main character, a redneck played by Thomas Ian Nicholas, was using duct tape to solve yet another problem, I tweeted that I was enjoying the music playing in the background.  To me, it sounded like something that Ennio Morricone would have come up with for a spaghetti western.  It fit the scene perfectly because Trailer Park Shark is a film that make duct tape feel just as epic as the final cemetery confrontation in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.  Andrew Morgan Smith, who did excellent work on the film’s score, informed me that the musical cue was called “Redneck Ingenuity.”

That’s a perfect name because, while Trailer Park Shark is about a lot of things, it is ultimately a celebration of redneck ingenuity and the never-give-up attitude of  life in the Southern bayou.  The characters in Trailer Park Shark have a lot to deal with.  Because of a freak rains storm and some evil plotting by mean old Mr. Deconnard (Dennis Haskins), their trailer park has been flooded.  And with the flood has come a shark!  It would be easy to give up, especially when people and horses start getting eaten.  But no one surrenders to fate!  No one gives up!

It’s a lot of fun, as any movie about a shark attacking a trailer park should be.  All of the characters in the park are memorable in their redneck way.  Even with the majority of the park underwater and neighbors getting eaten left and right, they’re still just as likely to be fighting each other as they are the shark.  While I personally have never lived in a trailer park, I’ve lived close to a few and I’ve spent a few nights visiting and this film gets the atmosphere just right.  Griff Furst, who is something of a specialist when it comes to bayou chaos, brings this location to life.  From the very first tracking shot to the film’s action-packed finale, the bayou feels alive.  You can easily imagine this location and these people existing long before the cameras started rolling.  The relationships feel real.

Speaking of feeling real, I always suspected that Dennis Haskins had the ability to play a really evil character.  Seriously, go watch the earliest episodes of Saved By The Bell and you’ll see some hints of darkness underneath Mr. Belding’s goofy exterior.  That said, Haskins does such a good job playing this film’s villain that you eventually forget that you’re watching Mr. Belding threatening to kill people.  Instead, he’s just a very bad man with an interesting preference in weapons.

(Speaking of weapons, Tara Reid also shows up, playing a trailer park resident who has a wide variety of weapons at her disposal.  Though her role is small, her appearance allows for some playful poking at the Sharknado franchise.)

I liked Trailer Park Shark.  It’s a blast of pure entertainment and my favorite of the recent SyFy shark movies.  Since SyFy reruns everything a hundred times, keep an eye out for it!

Watch it in honor of the rednecks who keep us safe from sharks, often at the cost of life, limb, and satellite dish.

Talking About Love: The Best of Me (dir by Michael Hoffman) and The One I Love (dir by Charlie McDowell)


The_Best_of_Me_poster

When I wrote my review of The Theory of Everything, I mentioned that Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time made a brief, if important, appearance in another film released earlier this year.  That film, of course, was the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation, The Best Of Me.  

Now, I have to admit that The Best Of Me was one of those forgettable films that I kind of suspected most of our readers would not mind me never getting around to reviewing.  It came out two months ago, it got terrible reviews, and it didn’t do much business at the box office.  I didn’t even enjoy it and I’m the girl who always ends up defending the Twilight films whenever the boys here at the Shattered Lens start to make fun of them.  You can tell the impression that the Rest Of Me made on me by the fact that I just got the name wrong and I didn’t even bother to correct my mistake.

But here’s the thing.  January is rapidly approaching and, with January, comes my annual 16 worst films of the year list.  And chances are that The Best Of Me will appear on that list and I’d like to be able to link to a review.

It’s probably not a shock to hear that The Best Of Me is not a good film.  With the exception of The Notebook, the novels of Nicholas Sparks are not known for inspiring good films.  Instead, they are known for inspiring films about achingly pretty people who meet on the beach, have a melodramatic secret in the past, and ultimately end up falling in love.  And dying, of course.  Somebody always has to die.  The familiar Nicholas Sparks formula actually works pretty well when you’re the one reading his prose and visualizing the story in your head.  That’s largely because you can always imagine yourself as the heroine and maybe James Franco, Bradley Cooper, or Ryan Gosling as the hero.  But, when it comes to making movies out of his books, the end results are often so predictable and uninspired that the Nicholas Sparks drinking game had to be legally banned after scores of single women fell ill with alcohol poisoning.

(Yes, that actually did happen!  Google it! …. or don’t.  Actually, don’t.)

The Best Of Me is, without a doubt, the most Nicholas Sparksian Nicholas Sparks adaptation ever made.  Seriously, it has everything that you would expect from a Nicholas Sparks film and it presents it all so predictably that watching the movie is a bit like watching a checklist.  We’ve got two former high school lovers who are reunited 20 years later.  We’ve got melodrama that comes out of nowhere.  We’ve got multiple flashbacks.  We’ve got soft focus cinematography.  And, of course, we’ve got an ending that is meant to be both tragic and inspiring but it’s neither because, since this is a Nicholas Sparks movie, we already knew that the ending was going to try to be both tragic and inspiring.

What we don’t have is much chemistry between the two lead actors.  James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan are both pretty in the way that people in Nicholas Sparks films often are but you never get the feeling that they have much affection for each other.  Even worse, in the flashbacks, their characters are played by two actors (Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato) who look absolutely nothing like James Marsden or Michelle Monaghan.  In particular, it’s impossible to believe that Luke Bracey could ever grow up to look like James Marsden.  I found myself half-expecting a huge twist where Marsden would reveal that he was an intruder.

And you know what?

That would have been a lot more interesting than what we got!  Somebody help me get in touch with Nicholas Sparks!  I’ve got some ideas for his next book!

The One I Love

For a far more memorable look at love and relationships, allow me to suggest The One I Love, a film that was obviously made for a lot less money than The Best of Me but which is also a lot more thought-provoking.

In The One I Love, Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss play a couple whose marriage is on the verge of breaking up.  At the suggestion of their friendly-yet-creepy marriage counselor (Ted Danson), they agree to spend a weekend at a beautiful but remote house.  Danson assures them that they will be the only couple at the house. Duplass and Moss agree and, at first, the weekend seems to be working.  However, soon both of them start having conversations and encounters that the other claims to not remember.  Duplass and Moss discover that they are not alone at the house…

And to tell you anything else about the plot would be unfair.  The One I Love is one of those films that works best when the viewer discovers its mysteries at the same time as the characters.  To spoil the film would be a crime.  Let’s just say that there is a twist that will leave you reconsidering everything that you’ve previously seen in the movie.

Beyond that twist, however, The One I Love works for the exact reason that The Best of Me does not.  Moss and Duplass have the chemistry that the leads in The Best Of Me lack.  You believe them both as individuals and as a couple.

So, when it comes time to consider what we talk about when we talk about love, check out The One I Love and leave The Best Of Me behind.