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'Happy Death Day 2U' writer/director says he wanted to trick audiences with time loop sequel
"I knew that I was going to pivot and change gears and move into sci-fi."
In late 2017, writer/director Christopher Landon released the movie that would launch his filmmaking career into the entertainment stratosphere. Made for less than $5 million, Happy Death Day brought exciting new life to the time loop genre with the story of a hapless college student (Jessica Rothe) forced to relive her own murder over and over again until she can discover the identity of the killer.
"It's where I started to lean into, 'I can make this funny, but still be scary, and also put some of myself in there too,' and talk a little bit about my experience with grief, trying to overcome it and how it can wear a person down" Landon told Empire for the magazine's May 2023 issue (now on sale).
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The Blumhouse-produced outing was a bona fide hit, netting audience acclaim and over $125 million worldwide. Naturally, a sequel was green-lit and delivered onto the big screen less than two years later: Happy Death Day 2U. Landon returned to direct and also took on the role of screenwriter (Scott Lobdell penned the original), providing a school-project-gone-awry explanation for the mysterious time loop.
"It was challenging to make because we were recreating so much and having to rebuild so much, but it was a very easy movie for me to write," he said. "I knew that I was going to pivot and change gears and move into sci-fi. I tried to trick people into thinking it's going to be the same movie all over again, and then completely left-turn it and go into something else."
Sadly, Landon never got the opportunity to close out his beloved Death Day trilogy, whose third chapter would have been "an epic apocalyptic adventure" that once again threw viewers for a loop.
Instead, Landon followed up 2U with Freaky, which placed a slasher twist on classic body-swapping hijinks. The title alone pays homage to one of the best to ever do it: Freaky Friday. Kathryn Newton (Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania) leads the film as a high schooler who finds herself trading bodies with a wanted serial killer known as the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn).
"If I'm good at anything, I do have a nose for ideas that feel conceptually intriguing and are both old and new," Landon said of the project, which fell victim to the dampening box office effect of the COVID-19 pandemic upon its theatrical release in November 2020.
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"It was very painful, knowing the movie was just kind of doomed," the filmmaker admitted, going on to add that the feature did end up with a kind of staying power within the context of Hollywood pitch meetings. "But it's been interesting; I've worked on a couple of other projects and when they tried to sell them, they sell them off of Freaky."
After three team-ups with Universal, Landon took his talents over to Netflix, which bankrolled We Have a Ghost. Now streaming, the movie (based on a short story entitled "Ernest," written by Geoff Manaugh) stars David Harbour as a balding apparition that becomes an immediate internet sensation when a new family moves into the house he's been haunting for decades. Jahi Winston, Isabella Russo, Anthony Mackie, Tig Notaro, Erica Ash, Niles Fitch, Steve Coulter, Tom Bower, and Jennifer Coolidge co-star.
Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U are both available from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
Want more Universal blockbusters? Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, 12 Monkeys, Van Helsing, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Paul, The Invisible Man, Nope, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, M3GAN, and more are now streaming on Peacock!