Happy Death Day 2U | Christopher Landon | February 13, 2019
Happy Death Day was one of the surprise box office hits of 2017, with director Christopher Landon skillfully navigating the world of horror-comedy by combining the premise of Groundhog Day with the horror/murder mystery elements of Scream.
We watched Teresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) die over and over again on her birthday, with the cycle repeating until she can discover who it is that keeps trying to kill her. While its ideas weren’t exactly new, it gleefully leaned into its world and was perfectly in on the joke. It went on to make well over $125 million worldwide, a pretty damn good result considering it was working with a $5 million budget (Jason Blum produced it, naturally).
Landon returns to direct once again with sequel Happy Death Day 2U, reteaming with his young cast to see if magic can strike twice. While it doesn’t match the highs of the first, it shifts gears in a surprising new sci-fi driven direction (with Back to the Future Part II as its main influence), while also keeping the spirit of the first very much intact (which we recommend seeing before going into this sequel).
Things pick up right where they left off, the very next day after the previous events where Tree is finally free from that pesky time loop. She thinks she can finally get back to life and begin a relationship with her helpful new boyfriend, Carter (Israel Broussard), but their brief honeymoon period of smooches is interrupted when Carter’s roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) returns to the room having a strange feeling of dread and deja vu that Tree immediately recognizes as a time loop of his own.
Tree and Carter try and help Ryan figure out who is out to kill him so they can get things back to normal for once and for all. While the beginning of the film positions Ryan as the possible new protagonist of the series, things quickly shift back Tree’s way as their investigation causes her to begin a new death loop, back to the very same day that started it all in the first film. This time around there are a ton of new ideas thrown into the mix, with new characters introduced such as Samar (Life Of Pi‘s Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin) who play into the equation for why these loops are having in a surprising fashion.
It becomes clear that this sequel (written by Landon, who takes over from original writer Scott Lobdell) integrates elements of mind-bending sci-fi that can get a bit convoluted for its own good. But like the first film, this is balanced out with a high influx of humor that seems even more utilized this time around to help smooth out some of the wrinkles in its multi-dimensional plotting.
With all of the cast and crew returning from the first film, it helps make the transition between films seamless and believable that all of this nuttiness picks up right where we left off the first time around. The film rests on the shoulders of Jessica Rothe, who commands the screen every bit as well as she did the first go-round. She is once again perfectly up to the task for the absurd comedic elements while also flashing emotional range when the script calls for it. Equally charming are the supporting characters played by Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, and Rachel Matthews.
Fans who expect more of a Scream-esque teen slasher should go in knowing that it almost completely abandons these horror elements save for a few scenes early on. While it’s not nearly as apt as blending the sci-fi elements and comedy into its world as it did with horror, the fact that it took that risk is something rather commendable and fun if you just go with it and don’t overthink things.
I applaud the fact that Happy Death Day 2U isn’t just a carbon-copy/rinse-and-repeat sequel that just follows the blueprint of what came before. However, it gets too bogged down in an overly complex narrative, abandoning the simple nature of the first that was admittedly a part of its charm. It will be interesting to see where they take the story for the third installment (given the mid-credit scene), which is just as inevitable as Tree’s next loop.