What sci fi horror Happy Death Day 2U taught me about grief

Sci-fi horror Happy Death Day 2U comes out on Blu Ray and DVD May 14th, coincidentally, right around Mothers Day. The release date made me think of the underrated film again, and how it’s actually a deeply felt story. One that dealt with grief in a unchartered way. Some may have been put off by it’s lack of real slasher elements, but I have a different take.

Though the original played more to the horror genre, Happy Death Day 2U is about something else all together. Director Christopher Landon himself said, “this was never about scary, but fun.” And the franchise is exactly that.

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Credit: The Hollywood Reporter

Happy Death Day 2U doesn’t have the same slasher elements as the first film. It’s not quite horror or sci-fi. In fact, it’s not 100% definable, and that’s part of its charm. At its core it’s a love story. Deeper than it seems and even introspective at times.

Jessica Rothe as Tree Gelbman goes from next level final girl to fully fleshed out, multi layered character. One who suffers real emotions, loss, sacrifice, and love.

The franchise has always been about breaking free from a time loop. But it’s about breaking free from something deeper. We learn that everything was triggered by Carter’s roommate Ryan. Ryan was simultaneously working on his school project Sissy, an experimental reactor that also happens to be a time machine. (If you don’t feel like using the suspension of disbelief, this movie isn’t for you.) Sissy got set off at 12:01 am (though we don’t know why exactly) in turn setting off Tree’s loop in Happy Death Day.

When we initially learn the reason for the loop was purely scientific, not some greater power we feel as let down as Tree does. Here we were analyzing cupcakes and bracelets in the first movie. Turns out it was just an invention that went haywire. But while the actual reason may be (somewhat) explainable, the underlying themes in Happy Death Day 2U are still meaningful.

Themes that the first movie set up for an unknowing audience to portray a deeper storyline. One we didn’t know existed. Tree’s buried grief and trauma over her mom’s recent death. An emotion that we briefly recognized in Happy Death Day but that she hadn’t fully tapped into. Too busy trying to solve her brutal murder, and all.

In the first film, Tree’s goal is simple. Find out who murdered her and why, in whodunit style, effectively ending the loop. The sequel’s intentions are less focused on that aspect of the story. The Baby Faced killer is still a theme, but a back story. This is less about murder and more about one woman’s journey to redemption and acceptance of loss.

In the first twenty entertaining minutes of the movie we see roommate Ryan has landed in his own alternate time loop. A simultaneous universe happening alongside events from the original film. This is a tool used by another popular movie out right now. It also throws Tree back into the loop.

Except this time, she’s alternate universe. One where love interest Carter is somehow dating jerky sorority house leader Danielle AND her mom is alive. She’s initially disturbed by the changes but decides it’s not possible to leave any existence where her mother is alive and well.

Eventually Carter, not dating her but still clearly drawn to her, explains that she can’t remain in this faux ending. Staying would actually be inauthentic since the original events were destined to happen Going back to try and change them wouldn’t ensure any happiness.

Deciding which dimension to live in so you can see your mom again is the stuff of movies. But remove the context, and it’s a real illustration of grief, regret and the desire to see someone one last time.

Ultimately Tree has to decide which world to stay in. One where her mother’s alive, but nothing else is real or authentic. Or where the life she knows, and the guy, is hers. But mom still isn’t there.

In the end, she remains in the right universe. But beyond a happy ending with Carter lies a deeper story about coping mechanisms. Tree is essentially able to grieve, and finally get over her mother’s untimely death.

I can understand wanting to live in a world where your mom is still around. I relate to wishing for a universe where both the guy you love, and your mother are there. Tree’s pain seems real to me.

But the message here is that we can’t live in the past. We can however, as her mom tells her in one sequence, control “what we do in the future.”

Sometimes, I’ve questioned if things that happened to me in this life would’ve unfolded in an alternate destiny. I wound up marrying the love of my life. But I lost my mom at 29, years before that. I’ve imagined a universe where these two people in my life could’ve met or been around at the same time.

I know that’s not meant to be. Yet I’ve still wondered, if it was, would I have the life I have now? There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to have her back but I also could never give up my husband and puppy.

Referencing these thoughts, I was able to connect with Happy Death Day 2U on a whole other level. I found myself relating to its message and Tree’s dilemma. Something director Christopher Landon likely understood too. Having lost both his parents (his father was actor Michael Landon) his own understanding of loss resonates throughout the film.

He explained in an interview that anyone who has lost someone, especially suddenly can understand a desire to return to the past even if we can’t really do it. It’s that feeling that he wanted reflected in the second film.

Happy Death Day 2U shows us what it could be like to delve into the past, and see a different outcome of life. But while we do get to do this through Tree’s eyes, ultimately the moral, or truth here is that only acceptance, and moving forward can truly set us free.

Buy it on blu ray or dvd May 14th. Or, as a DVD Netflix user, just add Happy Death Day 2U to your queue and watch ASAP!

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