In 2017 Blumhouse Productions and Universal Pictures hit gold with “Happy Death Day”, a slasher film that saw its protagonist relive the same day over and over until she solved the mystery of her own murder. The movie was such a big hit, making $125.5 million dollars on a minor $4.8 million budget, that a sequel was bound to happen even if nobody really asked for it. Thus, we have “Happy Death Day 2U” which reexamines the concept of the “Groundhog Day” Effect with a little black comedy and science fiction worked in to provide something fresh for fans of the original movie. The same cast even returns to make the sequel possible with a few new additions for some spice. So, does this sequel that nobody asked for justify its own existence or is it just that, a sequel nobody needed or wanted? Let’s find out. This is my review of “Happy Death Day 2U” and you can read my review of the original “Happy Death Day” by clicking here.
“Happy Death Day 2U” picks up right after the events of the first movie with Tree (Jessica Rothe) and Carter (Israel Broussard) in a happy relationship. However, Carter’s friend Ryan finds himself the new target of Babyface as he relives a day over again. After consulting Tree and Carter it’s revealed that Ryan, along with his friends Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin) have created a device capable of exploring the limitations of time for a thesis project which, as it turns out, was responsible for the loop that trapped Tree. After attempting to close Ryan’s loop, the device malfunctions sending Tree back to the original time loop where she experiences an alternate version of reality with a new Babyface targeting new victims, including the original killer. Working with her friends Tree must find a way to return to her own reality while solving a new Babyface mystery as she dies over and over again to get things right.
The first thing worth noting about “Happy Death Day 2U” is that it’s a VERY different approach from the original film which was more straight up horror slasher. This second entry bring new elements into the fold and embraces a very different tone from the first film. Surprisingly, it works. Part of what makes it work so well though is the cast. Jessica Rothe is once again front and center as Tree as she experiences yet another time loop that offers its own unique twists and turns. She’s clearly having a lot of fun reprising the role that made her a household name two years ago. It doesn’t hurt that the narrative allows Tree to juggle conflicting emotions about her own reality versus the one she has found herself in through the new loop which allows Rothe to show her emotional range while the new tonal approach also allows her to stretch her comedic muscles as well. I loved her in the first movie and she’s equally as fun to watch here. It also helps that she has such a cool cast behind her. While not every returning player gets their dues, everyone really seems to be having fun with this film and that certainly helps sell its ridiculous concept. Israel Broussard has a slightly larger role in this picture as Tree’s love interest Carter while the likes of Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma, Sarah Yarkin, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Steve Zissis and others are all given ample opportunity to share the spotlight with Rothe, who was pretty much THE focus of the original movie. The cast sells this film because noone takes it too seriously, yet you always feel the stakes are higher than ever.
When going into “Happy Death Day 2U” you need to do it with an open mind because this film takes the idea of time loops and goes FULL ON science fiction in explaining its origins. It leans heavily on most convoluted sci-fi mumbo jumbo even exploring the idea of multiverses and alternate timelines. At first, I had a hard time really embracing this idea. It does initially feel like a forced attempt at justifying a sequel and seemed to betray the entire concept of the franchise where the mystery of the loop itself was a fun, unanswered riddle we didn’t need to know the answer to. But, given some time, I found myself actually embracing this new approach which comes complete with a fresh comedic take on the script and story. Christopher Landon, who takes over writing as well as returning as director, clearly knew if he was going to justify a “Happy Death Day” sequel he had to do something totally bonkers to make it work. The science fiction aspects, the hilarious and pleasantly uncomfortable black comedy, and the fun horror elements carried over from the original movie don’t mix together well at all which, as odd as it is to say, actually works in the film’s favor by giving us this bizarre mind trip that basically tells its audience right up front “don’t think to much into it, just role with it an enjoy the ride” and oh what a fun ride it is. With that said while “Happy Death Day 2U” does feel derivative of the first movie (more on that in a moment) its real strength, and the real reason you should see it, is the odd and creative places the filmmakers decided to go to make a sequel that shouldn’t even exist work so well. The followup feels like a natural and clever progression for the series which is impressive considering how little room the original movie left for any sort of followup in the first place.
But, as I said, “Happy Death Day 2U” does lean heavily on what worked from the original film and it’s here that it fails. Some story beats are actually effective, such as the differences Tree experiences in the new loop that make her question her willingness to return to the reality she once knew. The problem with these changes though is they’re terribly predictable. I saw them all coming from a mile away. I’ll give it this, some of the predictable alterations to Tree’s reality do play a part in helping her continue to grow as a character, but there’s still a lot of familiarity to this film that I couldn’t help but be annoyed by. That doesn’t mean the filmmakers didn’t try, in fact in some areas I think they tried to hard. For example, we see Tree kill herself as she resets the time loop over and over again to help her friends get their machine working again, but as interesting as it was to see the many ways she was murdered in the first movie seeing her jump out of a plane in a bathing suit or shock herself in a bathtub feels like a pandering attempt to cash in on the original idea the first film was going for. Worst of all though “Happy Death Day 2U” isn’t a very scary movie. The first film wasn’t that scary either but it was a clear horror film meant to make people cringe even by PG-13 standards, but in this feature the horror and even the mystery of the new Babyface takes a backseat to the new sci-fi elements and comedy. While I loved the new ideas incorperated into this film, I couldn’t help but wonder what “Happy Death Day 2U” was actually trying to be and it’s lack of any clear identity while still trying to emulate the original movie’s concept can be a bit off-putting.
In the end regardless of its problems I surprisingly enjoyed “Happy Death Day 2U”. It’s far from perfect and it’s hard to say whether it’s better than the original, but it’s certainly on par with its predecessor at worst. There’s a lot of fun this film has to offer. It’s a neat blend of slasher horror, science fiction and black comedy which gives it its own personality when compared to the original movie. This allows it to explore new, frankly ridiculous concepts that help take the franchise in a completely out there direction that’s almost so ridiculous you can’t help but want to see where it goes. At the same time though, it also seems to want to rehash the original movie’s concept a little too much to the point where the whole slasher aspect feels more like a footnote than the actual basis for the story. With all that in mind if you enjoyed the first “Happy Death Day” you’ll likely enjoy this one especially if you go into it simply to see what new directions the filmmakers decided to take. It offers more than enough to prove that somehow a dead-end concept did have more to offer and while many people will leave the theater still wondering why we needed a sequel in the first place, I never thought I’d be the one saying I’m glad we got one all the same.