I might have eventually got around to watching the first Happy Death Day, but amazingly enough it was the announcement of the sequel title, Happy Death Day 2U that made me seek it out because I figured a sequel title with that level of tongue-in-cheek humor must be alright. I really enjoyed the first movie thanks largely in part to Jessica Rothe’s star-making performance, so I was all in for the sequel and having now seen it, I’m happy to say it lives up to the original, not better, but if you liked the first then there’s every chance you’ll like this one too.
The film opens up on Tuesday the 19th, the day after Tree’s (Jessica Rothe) time-loop adventure, and follows Ryan (Phi Vu), a quantum physics student and roommate to Carter (Israel Broussard) as he and his classmates realize their molecular freezing device – known as Sissy – has had a breakthrough, but they’re not sure how. Not long afterwards though, Ryan is killed by a Baby Masked Psycho and wakes up on Tuesday the 19th.
Explaining the situation to Tree and Carter while finding out that they don’t think he’s crazy, the three of them realize that Sissy must be responsible for the time-loops Tree and Ryan experienced, which bums Tree out since she believed it was a cosmic event to help her come to terms with her mum’s death. Upon discovering who his killer is, Ryan starts trying to use Sissy again to break the loop, only for the machine to explode and send Tree back to Monday the 18th. But more than that, Tree realizes she is in a different Monday the 18th, one where her killer roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) is nice to her, her bitchy sorority leader Danielle (Rachel Matthews) is a charity activist, and in a relationship with Carter, while her mum (Missy Yager) is alive and well.
While the story has its flaws, a doppelganger plot brought in early on is dropped quickly and never mentioned again, and the actual killer aspect takes a backseat although it does have a great pay-off. It does follow the same beats as the first film with Tree having to die over and over, but the use of a parallel dimension allows the film to play around with the supporting cast and puts Tree out of her element. Some people might say it’s a little too similar to the first film if you break it down and to an extent that’s true, but I think it’s different enough to warren its own praise.
Because of the new dimension, a lot of the supporting cast were given a lot more to do, even smaller characters like Gregory (Charles Aitkin), Tree’s former affair fling has an interesting twist to his character that plays out very well. Former killer Lori is obviously suspicious at first, but the film genuinely shows her to be a good person and a good friend to Tree, it takes a while, but Lori’s part in the film gives Tree a lot to think about.
New characters Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin) weren’t given a whole lot to do. Dre most of all just felt like she was there to have a girl on the science side of things, while Samar had some decent moments of humor. The expansion of Ryan was an interesting choice for such a minor character in the first film, but it tied everything together nicely, and he was given enough to do when he opened the film to stand out, showing himself as a minor genius, but one who’s not above ignoring school rules in the pursuit of science. Former Bitch Queen Danielle has one of the biggest changes, not only in that she’s now a charity activist, but she’s also given a lot more humor to her character, most of that is because she’s dense and/or ignorant of her own talents (a recurring joke about her acting blind is pretty decent) and truthfully her true self shines through more than once.
I feel like Carter wasn’t given as much to do in this film since while he’s trying to help Tree, his relationship with Danielle means that he’s not with her as much anymore. It’s a shame because I do really like Carter and even this alternate version of him slowly falls for Tree the more time they spend together. Actually thinking about it, since they aren’t together in this film, it allows the moments where Tree opens up to him have more weight since she’s talking to someone who she can’t be with, but is the only one she can. Despite their separation, Carter still manages to play hero, even to his own detriment and often plays voice of reason trying to get through to Tree when she falls back on selfish habits.
For the record that’s not a complaint about Tree because once again Jessica Rothe steals the whole film out from everybody. Obviously, being put back into Monday The 18th is gonna make her super f**kng pissed and she rightfully is (utilizing the single PG-13 F-Bomb to great effect) but this alternate world puts Tree is an odd situation where she’s lost all memory of this world, but her mother is back in her life and every shitty thing she did in response to her death never happened. Of course Rothe nails the charisma of Tree again, having already gone through this shit before she starts off bad-ass, hilarious, and an absolute joy to watch, but the inclusion of her mother is what makes Tree’s arc so damn great. The film does a good job of showing how important their relationship is and was to the point where when Tree is making the decision the close the loop at the cost of people’s death, she’s willing to go through with it because losing her mother again is too hard. There’s a ton of emotional weight to Rothe’s performance and she’s absolutely fantastic with all of it. I’d probably say she’s better here than in the first because while she does backtrack a little bit, it never feels like a betrayal of her character and the overall situation she finds herself in is difficult for anyone to face, let alone someone who just died 20 times trying to understand it.
Director Christopher B. Landon also returns and while he does a good job this is where I were to criticize the film a little bit. For one thing he does follow the beats of the first film a little too closer, there’s a killer, a time-loop, a montage, and a reveal that all pretty much in the same places they were in the first film. Although I’ll give him credit for the montage, instead of a death-count it’s a suicide count as Tree finds increasingly ridiculous ways to reset the day set to Paramore’s “Hard Times” and it’s pretty brilliant.
The move away from the slasher formula is a little disappointing, but given the focus on dimension shifting, more time-loops, and a literal science macguffin, it’s clear the film is going for a more sci-fi style, and to an extent it works like that. It never goes too far into the sciency stuff to completely lose people and that might be to its detriment since it never fully explains how any of this is happening. But it’s a nice change of pace, the same with the level of humor which definitely feels upped, from simple but effective scenes like during Tree’s freakout when she comes across her gay ex-boyfriend and doesn’t want to deal with him, to longer moments like Danielle’s pretending to be a blind French student which feels like something out of a three stooges sketch, but somehow doesn’t feel out of place. None of that’s to say that Landon completely abandons the slasher parts, a chase scene through a hospital floor under construction has a good level of tension to it, and the finale reveal, while not perfect, makes a lot of sense in how it plays out in comparison to the first film. I would’ve liked more horror from the supposed horror movie, but I’m happy with what we got.
Compared to the original, I’d give the first film a slight edge just for how fresh it was, but Happy Death Day 2 U is still a fine sequel, it expands upon the original with the dimensional shift, and gives itself a lot more to play around with. The characters are still great with Jessica Rothe crying out to become a goddamn star by turning in an even better performance as Tree and while Landon eases up on the horror, there’s still a lot of fun to be had watching Tree kill herself for our amusement.
I am giving Happy Death Day 2U a 3 ½ out of 5 Hairpieces!