Be aware there are some spoilers for Happy Death Day 2U.
Happy Death Day 2U is probably not the sequel you were expecting. Writer/director Christopher Landon delivered an unexpected twist on the slasher subgenre with 2017’s surprise breakout hit Happy Death Day, which dropped the film’s fantastic final girl (Jessica Rothe) in a time loop where she was murdered over and over again by a masked killer. For the sequel, the filmmaker shifts the action to sci-fi adventure, taking the killer time loop to another dimension.
With Happy Death Day 2U now in theaters, I recently hopped on the phone for an interview with Landon to dig into some of the spoilery elements of his surprising sequel. We talked about how quickly the film came together, getting to play with the bigger-budget sci-fi elements, where to spot the easter eggs for the sequel in the first movie, determining the rules of his multi-verse, and much more. Check out what he had to say in the interview below.
I’m curious about the process on this because you worked on the first film for a very long time, and you obviously had to write this one very fast, so how did those creative processes compare for you?
LANDON: Yeah, the first one was such a long journey only because when I came onto the first movie I was just hired to rewrite it and there was another director attached at the time. Then that movie, you know, it just didn’t happen. It kind of fell apart and then the script sat around for a really long time.
We kept trying to find different ways to try and jump start it and get it going again. Everything kind of just started failing. Until I was able to bring it to Jason Blum which obviously sort of was the big sort of win for us. It just kind of felt like a long road even though once Jason had it everything moved fairly quickly.
But this time it was so fast but we all wanted this to happen quickly because there was a sense of urgency around it, because these movies are so interconnected, and so it was essential that we get this one out as quickly as possible so that the first movie was still relatively fresh in people’s minds because I think that it really enhances their experience in watching the second one.
How did writing for Tree change this time around knowing that you were writing it for Jessica?
LANDON: You know, it was liberating because I know what she’s capable of, which is pretty much everything, so I didn’t feel like I had to limit myself. One of the more complex aspects of her character this time around is … The emotional stakes of the second movie are much higher. In the first movie, she kind of had this very clean arc. She goes from unlikable bad person to sort of like cool, charming heroine. This time around it was a little bit trickier because she’s starting out in such a good place in her life, and, yet, she sort of ends up with this new dilemma. She kind of backslides a bit and reverts and becomes a little bit selfish again. It was a complicated thing to have to kind of really play with, and I’m just really lucky that Jessica is as talented and versatile as she is because she makes it look easy. I think for a lot of other actors it would be very challenging.
Also, when you were writing it and then making it, what were the elements of science fiction and that genre that you were excited to bring into both the storytelling and also the look and style of the film?
LANDON: Yeah, I was really excited about the sci-fi element, I think primarily because I knew that it was going to open up a lot of story potential. That was the most exciting part about adding a sci-fi element. But then from a pure sort of visual standpoint, you know, getting to actually create this device, sort of being a sort of this university sort of science department atmosphere and also get to like play with some tools and some toys that are usually kind of reserved for bigger budget movies. A lot of the stuff that we have in here kind of feels like something that you might see in a Michael Bay movie. I had a blast actually getting to have cool lasers.
So that aspect of it was a lot of fun. It all had to service the story and that was the most important thing to me was that we built these things and made them feel as grounded and as real as possible so that the audience would really go on this very unconventional journey that I wanted to take them on.
I know that you said that you had this figured out before the first one came out, but when you came up with this concept how did you settle on Ryan’s science experiment as the cause of everything?
LANDON: When I was editing the first movie … I mean this is kind of the genesis of the whole thing, which was I was editing the first movie and I kept watching scenes with Ryan barging into the dorm room and throwing out that really sexist question. I started laughing because I thought what if he was the reason this happened. There was something very comedic about that to me.
Yet, as I started to really sit with it I thought well, he’s at a university. We don’t know what his major is. What if he’s sort of a budding physicist? What if he’s a genius? It really took off from there. Once the idea of Sissy, the device, once I kind of arrived at that, that’s when I really felt like I had gas in the tank because I knew that I could play with sort of this notion of inter-dimensional time jumping. That was the thrust of the movie for me.
Then it allowed me … What I really wanted to get to ultimately was that Tree would have to face her mom. It was kind of all those steps that quickly led me to the sequel. It all happened really quickly. I thought of the idea. I mulled on it for a couple days and then I pitched it to Jason, my producer, and then when he heard it he said, “That’s amazing. You have to write it.” So I wrote it. We had a finished script by the time the first movie came out, but we were just kind of waiting to see how the first movie was received.
That’s gotta be a pretty gratifying change of pace.
LANDON: It was gratifying and terrifying because I was like, “Oh, my God. I built this thing and now I have to do it. Now I have to live up to the expectations of the first movie.” So there was pressure there, but I really felt … I felt confident moving forward because I knew at the very least that I wasn’t being lazy and I wasn’t making the same movie twice. That was super important to me. I felt like if I didn’t have anything to add to the story or the conversation then there was no point.
That was the goal and I really feel like for better for worse. Whether people like this movie or they don’t like this movie, they can’t say that we really didn’t go for something different.
Very true. What was your favorite wrong theory about the time loop?
LANDON: What was my favorite wrong theory about it?
LANDON: That’s funny. I did not read a lot of any fan theory because I didn’t want to sort of muddy the water. I really stay away from that stuff because then I would worry that I’m disappointing people. Like, “Oh, what if my theory, you know, what if the way I execute this movie doesn’t live up to other people sort of saying that these are ideas that what we should be doing?” So I did stay away from it. It was a conscious effort.
I personally think that what you came up with was way better than anything I read.
LANDON: Oh, Phew!
That’s why you’re the pro. One more question about the cause of the time loop. You mentioned that there were Easter eggs in the first film for it, where are those?
LANDON: Yeah. There’s a couple. So, I mean, look. I think the most obvious one is the fact we had all these rolling blackouts in the first movie and now we get to discover why. But I think another really cool one is in the first movie when the Universal logo appears and it repeats, there’s a big sound that would accompany the logo when it reset. That shockwave sound is the exact same sound that the device actually makes when it goes off in the second movie. That was another little fun Easter egg.
But then in the new movie, we have tons of other little Easter eggs in there. A lot of stuff had to do with being in a different dimension. So if people watch the first movie and then are able to kind of freeze frame their way through the second movie, they’ll find a lot of things on screen that look the same but actually aren’t. So that will be hopefully fun for some people who are into that kind of stuff.
I probably missed this in the movie but what is Sissy short for?
LANDON: Oh, yes, I mean we called her Sissy. The device is called the Sisysphus Quantum Cooling Reactor. So they just call it Sissy ’cause that’s a mouthful.
When you arrived on the idea of doing a multi-verse, were you ever tempted to explore more of the dimensions or make the dimensions stranger or more fantastical?
LANDON: There was a moment where I thought about it but my concern was that that would actually become very unruly from a narrative standpoint and I wanted to still try to keep things … because I was already asking a lot of the audience to sort of go on this big kind of leap with me. I didn’t want to over-complicate it. I think sometimes it becomes like a hat on a hat, and I wanted to try to simplify an otherwise fairly complex idea. I did stay away from that for that reason.
How much did you dive into the rules of your shared universes?
LANDON: I try to do as much research as I could and I read a lot about … as much as I could understand about quantum physics and read a lot about different multi-verse periods, and a lot of the theories that Ryan references in the movie are actual theories. There is a holographic universe theory and so on. I tried to imbue the movie with some real science but while also kind of playing a bit fast and loose with it to sort of satisfy the needs of the story. So hardcore science people will both find real science and bullshit science in the movie. Hopefully, they’ll give me a pass for it because I am just trying to tell a specific kind of story here.
On the first film, you guys had that original ending that you said made test audiences furious. Were there any significant changes along the way to this film?
LANDON: That was the real shocker for us. We made no changes to this movie. We didn’t re-shoot an ending. We added a couple very small pieces and they were more like wish fulfillment things like … or I should say wishlist things. Like as you were going along and I ran out of time and I ran out of money, I kind of kept a list of things that I really wanted to do. When the movie was done and when the studio was happy with the movie and gave me permission to go and get those things, but the structure of the movie stayed identical. In fact, for our … When the movie is released on DVD and Blu-ray, we only have one deleted scene. It’s tiny. So it will be a bit of a letdown in some ways, but I’m really proud of the fact that we didn’t have to change anything, too.
It just seems like this film really came together nicely and quickly. All the things you’re saying are kind of blowing my mind. That’s not what I usually hear, you know?
LANDON: I know, and it’s not what I usually experience, to be honest. I’ve never shot a movie where we didn’t re-shoot the ending. We always re-shoot the ending. It’s like I expect that. This time around it was a pleasant surprise to get it right the first time. At least I hope we got it right. I don’t know, I’ll let audiences decide.
Well, I certainly liked it!
LANDON: Thank you. I appreciate that.