Home > Reviews > HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U – Bear McCreary

HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U – Bear McCreary

February 27, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Blumhouse’s low-budget comedy horror slasher film Happy Death Day was an unexpected critical and commercial success in 2017. Audiences really connected with it’s appealing cast, knowing and witty sense of humor, plentiful scares, and clever mix of genres – perhaps the best description of the film was ‘Groundhog Day meets Scream’. The film starred Jessica Rothe as Tree, a university student who is stalked around campus and eventually murdered by someone wearing a ‘baby mask’ similar to those worn by her school’s mascot. The twist comes by way of the fact that Tree is caught in a time loop, and every time she dies she wakes up again that same morning in her dorm room, fated to continue this cycle of being murdered again and again until she finds out who the killer is. In this sequel, which is again directed by Christopher Landon, Tree finds herself caught in the time loop for a second time – despite her having solved her own murder at the end of the first film – but this time is required to team up with a group of experimental science students who appear to have created a parallel universe where Tree’s killer still exists. The film co-stars Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Ruby Modine, and Suraj Sharma from Life of Pi.

One of the things I like about Happy Death Day 2U is how it puts a fresh spin on the events from the original film, bringing some of its supporting characters into the forefront, engaging in some emotional and philosophical conversations about destiny and fate, and undergoing a slight genre shift by bringing in a more prominent science fiction angle. I suppose you could describe this version as ‘Groundhog Day meets Scream meets Back to the Future,’ which is a good thing as I like all of those movies. The goofy black humor is still there in abundance, there is still plenty of gore and suspense for horror fans, and Jessica Rothe continues to be a likeable lead – and, best of all, it sets itself up for a possible Happy Death Day 3 with a bonus scene during the end credits! The other great thing about HDD2U is the fact that the first film’s composer, Bear McCreary, is also back, with a thoroughly enjoyable fully orchestral action-horror-suspense score recorded in Vienna.

As he did with the first film, McCreary builds his score around a set of recurring thematic ideas: Tree’s Theme, the six note pop melody for the main protagonist; the creepy motif for the Baby Mask Killer; and a couple of new themes, including one representing the Quantum Reactor science experiment, and one for Tree’s relationship with her family. As the score progresses each of these ideas is blended deep within a series of really excellent action and suspense cues which showcases McCreary’s increasingly impressive talent in this area.

The score actually begins with “Two Tuesdays,” which opens with the slithery, distorted ‘wake up’ music from the original score’s opening cue. In the first film it was used as a recurring motif for Tree’s increasing confusion at her odd circumstances; here it is used to represent the disoriented state that Ryan – the doofus roommate from the original film – finds himself in when he wakes up in his car and staggers his way through campus to find his apartment. McCreary uses synths, guitars, woodblock percussion, and brightly rhythmic strings to form the bulk of the instrumental palette. It’s a fun way of getting things moving in a way similar to that of the original film; the motif re-appears in subsequent cues such as “Monday the 18th Again” and “Danielle”. In these latter cues McCreary also inserts clever statements of Tree’s theme, including one in the former arranged for thrusting brass pulses and strings which clearly shows that Tree is utterly pissed at being back in the time loop.

The second major new theme in the score is the 7-note motif for the “Science Project,” which injects a slightly more magical and mysterious sound into the score. This idea is actually first heard around two minutes into the opening cue, and is a larger, imposing orchestral idea which often rises to a more impressive, almost heroic fanfare-like height. Subsequent cues like “Solving Equations” feature the motif strongly, while several other cues feature the motif broken up into smaller recurring textures which firmly place Ryan’s quantum reactor at the core of the film’s story.

The final new theme in Happy Death Day 2U is the theme for Tree’s relationship with her parents – what I’m calling the Gelbman Family Theme. This theme features some beautiful, emotional scoring for strings, piano, and synths, and is clearly the emotional heart of the score. The fact that Tree’s family life plays such an important part of this film’s plot gives the whole thing an unexpected amount of heart and poignancy; as such, cues like “A Reason to Stay,” “Can’t Save Everyone,” and especially “Birthday Candles” contain some of the loveliest music I’ve heard from McCreary in quite some time.

However, the most prevalent writing style is action and suspense, and yet again McCreary excels at it. In cue after cue McCreary makes fantastic use of aggressively layered brass clusters, fluttering metallic textures; and searching violins that perhaps intentionally recall Alan Silvestri’s Back to the Future, all of which are draped around a wonderful, rampaging rhythmic core filled with throbbing percussion and stabbing, slashing strings. McCreary has shown his action credentials over and over again, through his pair of Cloverfield works and many of his scores for video games, and Happy Death Day 2U continues the trend. The second half of “Two Tuesdays,” most of “Stalker at the Gym,” a lot of “Monday the 18th Again,” “Back to the Hospital,” and “Electrical Substation” all feature this heightened brass intensity; as I mentioned earlier, I especially love the way McCreary bucks expectations in “Monday the 18th Again,” when he uses this furiousness as a way to capture Tree’s overwhelming frustration at being stuck back in the time loop, as she rampages around the campus screaming at everyone she encounters.

In several of these cues McCreary revisits his creepy Baby Mask Killer motif. If you remember, and as I wrote in my first review, the fictional college in which the film is set has an oversized baby as its school mascot, and so McCreary settled on the idea of having baby voices be the calling card of the killer hidden behind the toddler’s face. To this end, McCreary recorded his then-two year old daughter, Sonatine Yarbrough McCreary, cooing and babbling and saying random words like ‘pasta’ and ‘up’. He then digitally altered and manipulated the sounds in order to create a set of creepy textures that were layered into the music to herald the killer’s appearance. This time around the Baby Mask Killer’s motif is less prevalent, but it still gets some genuinely chilling moments to shine, such as in “Stalker at the Gym” and “Back to the Hospital”.

The score’s finale begins with “The Heist,” a funky piece of suspense music that accompanies Tree and the scientists as they attempt to take the quantum reactor back from the clutches of the school dean. Electric guitars and pulsing strings give the whole thing an effortlessly cool vibe, and for a brief period it even lapses into an unexpected moment of stereotypical French comedy music when Tree’s friend Danielle tries to distract the dean by pretending to be a blind French exchange student. McCreary dusts off his accordion for the occasion, providing a moment of levity among the carnage.

The 8-minute set piece in “The Final Confrontation” offers a final explosion of action and horror writing, which is fully orchestral and thoroughly entertaining. For this conclusive showdown McCreary throws all his ideas into the pot, arranging Tree’s theme as an action motif, bringing back the Baby Mask Killer motif, and introducing the Science Project motif at regular intervals whenever the plot calls for it. These thematic ideas are enveloped by an increasingly frantic set of swirling and surging strings, powerful brasses, and dramatic percussion patterns, some of which have an appropriately Herrmannesque flair concerning slashing knives and hidden killers. A dramatic final burst of the Science Project theme leads into the Men in Black-esque music for “DARPA” that sets up the potential for Happy Death Day 3, while the “Happy Death Day 2U End Credits” provides a fun 5-minute summary of the score’s main thematic ideas.

I’m not sure anyone expected the Happy Death Day movies to be as successful and enjoyable as they turned out to be when the project was first announced, and I’m certain that no-one expected Bear McCreary’s scores for them to be as nuanced, intelligent, and thoroughly entertaining either, but here we are, and I find myself recommending both of them. With films like this, the Cloverfield sequels, and his reliably excellent work for the small screen, McCreary is really establishing himself as one of the most exciting young composers working in the Hollywood mainstream, and I fully expect him to make a permanent transition to the A-List once Godzilla: King of the Monsters opens later in the year.

Buy the Happy Death Day 2U soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Two Tuesdays (5:15)
  • Stalker at the Gym (2:56)
  • The Science Project (2:54)
  • Monday the 18th Again (4:18)
  • Danielle (2:24)
  • A Reason to Stay (1:52)
  • Back to the Hospital (3:18)
  • Trail of Blood (4:48)
  • Can’t Save Everyone (2:24)
  • Solving Equations (3:39)
  • Electrical Substation (2:57)
  • Living in the Past (2:03)
  • Birthday Candles (6:19)
  • The Heist (4:17)
  • The Final Confrontation (8:49)
  • DARPA (1:49)
  • Happy Death Day 2U End Credits (4:49)

Running Time: 64 minutes 58 seconds

Back Lot Music (2019)

Music composed by Bear McCreary. Conducted by Johannes Vogel. Performed by the Vienna Synchron Stage Orchestra. Orchestrations by Sean Barrett, Benjamin Hoff and Jamie Thierman. Additional music by Jason Akers, Omar Ben-Zvi, Sam Ewing and Kevin Lax . Recorded and mixed by Bernd Mazagg. Edited by Michael Bader. Album produced by Bear McCreary.

  1. March 2, 2019 at 6:23 am

    Soundtrack is really great, and I like it more than original. But I’m really scared about Bear’s score for Godzilla.

    Not because soundtrack could be bad, but because of concentration on Ifukube themes. Seriously, they talked about it everywhere, they are joyful about they can use that themes, they talked about it in many interviews. It looks like they all try to forget about 2014 Godzilla and Desplat’s brilliant soundtrack.

    I will be more than disappointed if McCreary will not include Desplat’s Godzilla theme and Jackman’s Monarch theme. And it’s not only because I love these themes, but also because the absence of it will ruin musical continuity of Monsterverse, and that will be awful and loss of opportunities for Bear.

    But still, I really don’t want to jump to conclusions, so I will be waiting for further news about soundtrack and it’s samples.

  2. March 2, 2019 at 6:31 am

    And thank you for your review, Jonathan, excellent and detailed. It was interesting to learn about the many details in music that I didn’t notice. For example, the fact that baby voices belongs to Bear McCreary’s daughter.

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