Happy Death Day 2U adds a genre twist to the series' formula, delivering a sequel that's funnier, sillier, and more entertaining than the first movie.
A sequel to Happy Death Day, Happy Death Day 2U marks the second installment in the Blumhouse-produced slasher comedy franchise. Having already released the horror-thrillers Split and Get Out to widespread critical acclaim and big box office returns earlier in the year, Blumhouse enjoyed another unexpected success with 2017's Happy Death Day - a movie often described as Groundhog Day meets Scream. The followup features plenty of callbacks to the first film, yet aspires to mix things up by exploring the sci-fi element that its predecessor only hinted at. Fortunately, this approach serves the project well. Happy Death Day 2U adds a genre twist to the series' formula, delivering a sequel that's funnier, sillier, and more entertaining than the first movie.
Happy Death Day 2U picks up immediately after the original film, as college students Tree (Jessica Rothe) and Carter (Israel Broussard) have only just begun to enjoy their newfound romantic bliss. That's when Carter's roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) comes walking into their dorm room, claiming he's reliving the same day over again after being murdered by a mysterious person in a mask of their campus' mascot (a giant baby). Tree and Carter immediately realize that Ryan's now trapped in the same time loop as Tree was, but with no idea why or how it happened.
As it turns out, Ryan has the answer. He and his classmates Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin) have been working on a science experiment that inadvertently trapped Tree in a time loop and has now done the same to Ryan. However, when they try to fix everything by running their machine again, it results in Tree becoming trapped in the same time loop as before. Only this time, things have changed and there's a different killer on the loose that Tree has to stop before returning to the present.
While the sequel is technically a slasher like the first Happy Death Day, it's far closer to being a sci-fi comedy with horror-flavored humor than anything else. The film doesn't have any pretensions about itself, either, and wastes little time before dropping a direct reference to Back to the Future Part II, exactly like the first movie compared itself to Groundhog Day through its dialogue. Thankfully, these sorts of callbacks work here, partly because they bring to mind how the Back to the Future sequels were always riffing on scenes from the original film in that franchise. And much like the second and third Back to the Future films, Happy Death Day 2U is able to successfully recycle aspects of the first movie (everything from one-off jokes to a montage of Tree being killed over and over) by taking them even further into the realm of ridiculousness. That includes the intentionally-convoluted explanation offered for why these time loops keep occurring in the first place.
In some ways, Happy Death Day 2U makes its predecessor feel like a test run for what this franchise can be, in terms of tone and style. Christopher Landon both wrote and directed the sequel after directing the original movie only, and his storytelling is more confident in general, this time around. After poking fun at the slasher genre by making the mean girl the protagonist in Happy Death Day, Landon seems more interested in having fun with the series' premise and expanding its mythology in goofy, yet enjoyable ways here. At the same time, he doesn't simply hit the reset button with Tree and make her go through the same journey as she did in the original movie. Instead, Happy Death Day 2U presents Tree with a fresh conflict, as she comes to realize that her life in this new time loop is, in some ways, much better than her old one. This allows the sequel to dig deeper into the trauma that Tree was wrestling with in the first film, and make her confront it in meaningful and poignant ways.
Rothe, for her part, is just as charming and delightful as Tree in the sequel as she was in the original movie. While she's more experienced and mature now, Happy Death Day 2U still finds excuses for Tree to comically rage at the world or be outright petty to others, and Rothe seems to be having a blast in these scenes. She also gets to show-off more of her physical comedy talents in the film, especially when it comes to the sight gags and horrifically funny moments where Tree offs herself in extremely cartoonish (yet gruesome) ways. Rothe's dramatic skills shouldn't be overlooked either, as she brings real heart and tenderness to the scenes where Tree is interacting with either Carter or certain members of her family. Carter, like in the first movie, is still a relatively two-dimensional love interest, but his romance with Tree continues to work thanks to Rothe and Broussard's screen chemistry.
Surprisingly, Happy Death Day 2U even brings characters like Lori (Ruby Modine) and Danielle (Rachel Matthews) back from the original movie and either provides some closure to their relationship with Tree or adds a few new wrinkles, as a way of spicing up their dynamic with her. Of the supporting cast here, Matthews gets to have the most fun, if only because Danielle's over the top nature lends itself well to the film's general tone. Ryan, Samar, and Dre are given less to do by comparison, but all three of them are quite likable and may leave audiences wanting to see further adventures with the nerdy trio (which, if Happy Death Day 3 comes to pass, just might happen). By comparison, Steve Zissis is a total caricatures as the college's Dean Bronson, and he's only in the movie long enough to avoid wearing out his welcome or becoming a nuisance, as opposed to being the comical one-note antagonist that he is.
Ultimately, Happy Death Day 2U should please fans of the original movie, seeing as it doubles down on the elements that most people seemed to like about the original Happy Death Day (namely, the dark comedy), and adds a fun sci-fi ingredient to the recipe. Even if there were more competition for the horror audience right now, the film would still stand out from the rest of the crowd, thanks to its potpourri of genres and sheer unapologetic playfulness. The sequel recaps much of what happened in the first chapter early on, but curious newcomers should still watch (or, failing that, familiarize themselves with) the previous installment before jumping on the bandwagon here. Landon is already teasing the idea of a third Happy Death Day movie to close out the trilogy too - and if the sequel is any indicator, he might be saving the best (or, at least, the zaniest) for last.
Happy Death Day 2U is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 100 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for violence, language, sexual material and thematic elements.
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- Happy Death Day 2U (2019) release date: Feb 14, 2019