Happy Death Day 2U opens this week. Get your tickets here!
The history of youth-horror sequels is rife with repetition and recycling of their predecessors’ storylines. Writer/director Christopher Landon knows that well, and when it came to following up his sleeper hit Happy Death Day, he was determined to avoid falling into that trap.
“I felt like my job here was to tell the most compelling, interesting story I could find,” he says of Happy Death Day 2U, opening this week, “because the thing that pisses me off the most about sequels is when they rest on their laurels, and just kind of rehash things. I didn’t want to make the same movie twice. To me, that’s just lazy, and that’s the cash grab, so I was all about staying super-focused on this new idea I had and seeing it all the way through. I think people are going to appreciate that, and that when they see this movie, they’ll genuinely enjoy the fact that we have not just done the same old same old.”
Happy Death Day 2U reveals that the time loop isn’t done with sorority girl Tree (Jessica Rothe) just yet, and this time, a bunch of her friends become caught up in the murderous cycle as well. Along the way, we learn the secrets of the strange phenomenon, adding a science-fictional side to the proceedings, though Landon refrains from divulging any details of these new twists. Instead, he acknowledges the importance of taking his protagonist into fresh emotional territory, and of the actress who goes on that journey.
“A big part of writing this script,” he says, “was sitting down with Jessica and really talking about her character, and how being trapped in the loop changed her—for good and for bad—and exploring the emotional elements we wanted to tackle in this movie, which were very personal to both of us. The emotional stakes of the second movie are much higher—if she thought being trapped in the same day was difficult, this time it’s 10 times harder. I don’t want to give anything away, but Tree has to go on an incredibly challenging journey. We felt an especially strong connection to her this time around, and we had many, many meetings about how things would play out. She’s the actor every director hopes for—a total partner in crime.”
SPOILER ALERT for the next paragraph…
Landon also enjoyed bringing back Lori, played by Ruby Modine, who was revealed as the killer and actually did die at the end of the original film. “Ruby is such an amazing actress that I appreciate any opportunity I have to work with her,” he raves. “What’s really fun about having that character involved again is that I think people will be completely shocked by how we do it. I don’t want to get into spoilers, but it’s definitely not what people will expect.”
Over the course of shooting Happy Death Day 2U, Landon was happy to discover that a large number of viewers had connected with Tree’s story. “It was kind of funny when we went back to some of the original locations,” he recalls, “because when we did the first one there, we were just another random movie, and especially when you’re doing a horror film, people kind of roll their eyes. There’s still a little bit of a stigma attached to the genre, although I think that’s changing. And it was nice to go back and find so much goodwill, and see how many fans we had and how excited people were that we were making another one. That has also extended to social media, and it’s been fun hearing from so many people on Twitter and Instagram who are genuinely thrilled that we made another movie. It feels good that there are so many people out there who are excited to see it.”
Prior to the Happy Death Day saga, Landon was part of another franchise that found a great deal of audience goodwill: Paranormal Activity, for which he scripted the second through fifth installments and made his feature directorial debut on the last of those, The Marked Ones. The series seemed to have fizzled out with its most recent entry, 2015’s 3D Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, though horror fans know that you never say die in this genre. “I think we can pretty much assume they’re going to make another one; I feel like everyone revives the big franchises at some point,” Landon muses, though he adds, “They were wise to let it cool down and take a break, because everybody was feeling the fatigue.
“My favorite Paranormal movie was the third one, because it felt like we had really hit our stride from a storytelling point of view, and there was a great group of people involved. I also enjoyed making The Marked Ones, simply because it was different from all the other movies. But there was a point when we all kind of looked at each other and started shaking our heads, going, “God, this is very fucking hard! [Laughs] I don’t know how many more of these we can do!” The challenge now, if someone’s going to reboot it, is, how do you make that feel fresh? How do you revive found footage? There’s always the argument, of course, that you could make it not a found-footage movie, but that seems to go completely against its DNA, and what Oren Peli created. And no matter what you do, I don’t think there will ever be a Paranormal movie as captivating and as terrifying as Oren’s first one. That movie scared the living shit out of me, and made me want to work on the sequels.”
The son of actor Michael Landon, Christopher came out as homosexual shortly after his first produced scriptwriting gig, Larry Clark’s Another Day in Paradise. At the time, he was attached to make a film version of one of the gay-themed short stories in Clive Barker’s Books of Blood anthologies, and he says he has always found comfort in the fright genre. “I didn’t realize it back then, but I retreated to horror as a kid because it was a place for me to put all of my fear and anxiety about being different. It was very hard growing up as a gay kid, so for me, there was a safety in horror. I did a podcast not long ago, Attack of the Queerwolf, which is really funny and insightful, and we were talking about Carrie. I have such a deep connection to that movie. Again, I didn’t realize it at the time, but in many ways, I felt like Carrie White; I thought there was something wrong with me, that I was different, that people were going to ridicule me. I also related in a more fantastical way: I wanted to have powers so I could hurt people who hurt me [laughs].
“I believe horror speaks to a lot of people who feel like they are not the norm, that they are other,” Landon continues. “I find the horror community to be one of the most open, accepting groups out there. A lot of people who are drawn to the genre feel like outliers or outcasts, and there’s an enormous amount of acceptance in the horror community that you don’t find anywhere else. They’re inclusive, they’re appreciative—and it’s such a funny thing, because going back to the idea of the stigma, I’ve had more experiences than I can count where I’ve met people and told them I’m a horror filmmaker, and they’ve said things like, ‘Oh my God, you don’t look like one!’ And I think, ‘Well, what does that mean? What am I supposed to look like?’ There’s this image that you’re this angry person murdering animals in the basement or something. I always tell them it’s just the opposite, and that people get out all these vicarious thrills through the movies. It’s so rare that I’ve ever met a horror fan who isn’t down to earth, and, to me, normal.”