A little over a year ago, Blumhouse introduced us to Happy Death Day and its atypical heroine, Tree (Jessica Rothe), a character who surprised us all by essentially rewriting our views on the genres “survivor girl” trope. A whacky, unconventional film, Happy Death Day has grown a huge fan base since its release, so it was inevitable that we’d get a sequel. Turns out, Happy Death Day 2U is even crazier…
…While the previous film was written by Scott Lobdell, director Christopher Landon (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) returns this time as writer/director. Happy Death Day 2U also sees the return of many of the players from the original, with Tree teaming up with lover boy Carter (Israel Broussard) and his roommate Ryan (Phi Vu), plus a ton of unexpected heroes, as they work to close a pesky time loop and send Tree back to her own dimension or risk all of them meeting an unwelcome fate. One part horror, two parts sci-fi comedy, Happy Death Day 2U is a whacky genre-blend unlike much of anything we’ve seen in horror before.
If you’ve watched the trailers and seen that Tree is once again reliving the dreaded Monday the 18th, let me reassure you right now and tell you that this film is not at all like the original, and relives very few of the same moments, outside of Tree finding herself in Carter’s bed every morning. Jessica Rothe is once again a hilarious freight train of emotion. Broussard continues to charm as the sympathetic love interest. But what makes Happy Death Day 2U so unique is that in this sequel, side-characters from the original now get to shine as stars with a lot more time in the spotlight. Vu takes the brief moment we saw of him the first time and extrapolates that into a well-formed goofball that fans will quickly grow to love. Along with Ryan and his quirky band of scientists played by Suraj Sharma (Samar) and Sarah Yarkin (Andrea), Happy Death Day 2U takes the time to dive a bit deeper into others such as sorority queen Danielle (Rachel Matthews) and psycho killer, Lori (Ruby Modine), doing the impossible and making these deplorable people into someone we actually root for this time around.
Happy Death Day 2U is surprising that way. To say that the film flips expectations on their heads would be an understatement. Landon takes your expectations, mixes them up in a time-tornado with a hefty dose of cocaine, and tosses it back in your face for one weird, trippy experience. Heavily influenced by Back to the Future 2, right down to the musical cues from composer Bear McCreary, Happy Death Day 2U is nowhere near the traditional horror film some may hope for, going even further outside the boundaries than the original. That’s because, along with one massive plot point well hidden by the trailers, Happy Death Day 2U actually focuses very little on the baby-faced killer. There is still a mystery around who is dancing on the bodies of Tree and her friends, since Tree has found herself in a new dimension where things are different and Lori is no longer a jealous maniac, but Happy Death Day 2U is more about our relationships and what they mean to us. Teamed up with Ryan and his Scooby-doo gang of scientists, Tree struggles to decide what’s more important to her, the love she has with Carter in her dimension, or the newfound love she has with someone in this one, who I will not name, but let’s just say, it’s some heavy shit.
Unfortunately, this is both Happy Death Day 2U’s greatest strength but also its greatest weakness. While the film is highly original and unlike anything else you’ll find in the horror genre, by tossing in a murder mystery, a complex love story, multiverses, and a mission to save Ryan’s pseudo-time travelling machine he has built in a science lab, Happy Death Day 2U can often feel like a jumbled mess. Landon’s film elicits the same feeling as being in a crammed theater with a crying baby. You keep trying to focus on the main plot, but then there’s this damn baby crying in the corner. Oh, and a couple kids sitting in front of you playing Candy Crush. Happy Death Day 2U has so many different conflicts going on, so many different sub-plots, that it completely lacks the focus of the original. If you at all felt like the first Happy Death Day was difficult to keep up with, this one will likely leave you behind from the get go. Say this for Landon though. While the script may be flawed in this sense, Landon deserves credit for delivering a mostly coherent film dealing with so much complexity and events altered by the tiniest of actions. I can only imagine the headaches the script supervisor dealt with daily.
All of that being said, Happy Death Day 2U is on a level of entertainment that helps you to look past the overly-intricate script. Rothe and company will have your sides splitting so hard at times, you might think ole baby face took a baseball bat to your kidneys. Seriously, Rothe is a hilarious actress. If there was an Oscar for best comedic performance, Jessica Rothe would win, hands down. From her angry tirade after realizing she’s stuck reliving Monday the 18th again, to her suicidal escapades to reset the day, including a skydiving scene that is the funniest thing I have seen all year, if Rothe wasn’t on your radar as an actress before, she will be now. And if there’s any area which this sequel improves on, it’s the laughs.
Happy Death Day 2U also goes far beyond the emotional spectrum explored in the original. Happy Death Day just wants to be that fun blind date that shows you a good time, but Happy Death Day 2U is a full on committed relationship, complete with laughter, frustration, and straight up heartbreak. Landon’s film hits with an unexpectedly powerful emotional punch. Which is odd, because Tree actually does a lot less growing in this film. When we first met her, Tree was an utterly selfish asshole who went from being the girl we can’t wait to see die, to the survivor we love to root for. In this sequel, Tree must deal with some traumatic choices, but it’s nothing like the growth we saw from her before. Landon goes a little overboard with the dialogue and music, weighing some of the emotional impact down with a heavy helping of eye-rolling cheesiness, but I dare you to not even tear up a little. We all go a little cheesy sometimes.
Despite its many imperfections, Happy Death Day 2U is a genre-bending whirlwind that will have you wanting to do the time warp again, so long as you don’t have a baby-faced killer slicing you up on repeat. Sure, this film is a mind-boggling mess, but the cast is excellent, the laughs are frequent, and the finale involves a kill that we’ll likely be talking about in December as one of the year’s most applause-worthy moments. It had my theater clapping, at least. Shot on a measly budget of 9 million, it’s a travesty that Happy Death Day 2U has only pulled in about 6 million so far. Genre fans have been clamoring for original films for over a decade. This is that original film. Go see it. And don’t forget to stay through the credits, which introduces an insanely perfect concept for the third film that only us fans can make happen with the voice of our dollars.
Happy Death Day 2U is now playing in theaters.
By Matt Konopka