Happy Death Day 2U Director: Christopher Landon
Writers: Christopher Landon
Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma, Ruby Modine
Studio: Universal Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 100 Minutes
Release Date: February 13, 2019
Christopher Landon‘s first Happy Death Day was a darkly fun and hilarious slasher spin on the Groundhog Day concept. In it, a vain and selfish Tree (Jessica Rothe) found herself reliving her murder on her birthday over and over again. Though there wasn’t much more to it than that, it was still smart enough to borrow, blend, and subvert elements from other slasher and time loop films to make for a very entertaining guilty pleasure watch. Along with Rothe’s energetic performance, audiences stayed glued to the screen to watch how she would get out of her time loop and figure out who her killer was.
Now everyone is back for Happy Death Day 2U. While the sequel’s humor may not work quite as well as it did in the first, and it does stray away from the slasher mystery bit, it does take Tree’s character arc in a new direction by taking a surprisingly emotional turn and using a more geeked out concept by adding in some Back to the Future Part II to keep the deja vu concept going.
Tree may have thought she broke free from her own murderous time loop, but when Ryan (Phi Van) finds himself stuck in his own because of a botched experiment, it is up to her to help him break free of it. Little does she know that Ryan’s science project deals with time traveling and alternate dimensions. So he is dealing with the same issues as her, only he is the one being killed. And in an attempt to break free from that nightmare, Ryan inputs a new algorithm that causes Tree to relive her nightmare over and over again, but in a different dimension.
Here, she is no longer with Carter (Israel Broussard), and Lori (Ruby Modine) is actually her friend. Though she is very familiar with how time travel works, each time she is revived, the pain of each death lingers longer. And if she doesn’t discover the correct formula that returns her home, her death might become permanent.
The first Happy Death Day rides high on subverting slasher and time loop themes by giving audiences colorful and poppy ways for Tree to die. But in the sequel, things are a bit different. She is fully aware that she could come back and if she wants to return home, she is going to have to learn and memorize these complex scientific formulas if she wants to go back to her dimension. But there is something about this dimension that is making her decision to return complicated. One thing is that Carter is going out with one of her arch-rivals. And the other is the fact that her mother is alive in this one.
It takes a while for the entire plot to set in. Even for a B-rated slasher sequel like this one, it has an overly convoluted plot that mixes in its original premise with inter-dimensional travel. But it sure does have fun making your head spin thinking about the logistics of how it all works. Watching Tree learn these new concepts and literally die trying is funny in its first few seconds, but it does wear thin very fast. Tree’s deaths and suicides progressively feel less inventive and more like they threw in unused material from the first.
But had Happy Death Day 2U just simply doubled down on what made the first so successful, it would have just been just recycled material. So while the humor and slasher aspects are sacrificed, the sequel takes a surprisingly emotional turn that gives Tree a new opportunity to mature and grow. As if becoming a good person wasn’t enough, now she is forced to make a difficult choice. One that could change her life forever. Because this isn’t her dimension; she lives the life she could never have, one where she can happily live with her mother but not be with Carter. While she can live with that decision, she soon realizes that this isn’t her life. So to speak.
Sure it is a nice change of pace for a slasher sequel, but there is so much effort going into the emotional angle that it doesn’t pay any attention to the horror slasher aspects that made the first so successful. It amps up the emotional aspects with Tree coming to the sudden realization that she is living someone else’s life. Essentially stealing it. That does work when it wants to work. But when we are thrown back into the slasher comedy, it seems like a very abrupt and jarring change. The film is so focused on Tree’s relationship with her mom, it completely forgets that there is a killer on the loose. So when it circles back to that fact, it is sudden and without notice. And not in an organic way. It just throws Tree back into that story without any reason.
The film attempts to make up for it with those humorless death sequences and Tree being overly frustrated that she has to live the day over and over again but in a different world. Worse, it is a tonal mess. The film goes from Tree’s desperation to solve the formula that will lead to finding closure in her decision, to heist, to solving who the murderer in this universe is. But it’s not like anyone will care who it is because the sequel doesn’t even care about it. Although, if you have been following along and are a fan of the first, you can probably guess who it is.
Happy Death Day 2U‘s emotional shift is a great way to take the franchise to a new direction. Not only does it give more opportunities to see Tree die over and over again, it also gives audiences another chance to see her develop as a character in new ways. Although, it sacrifices way too much to make these changes and forgets what made it so successful in the first place.
It soon becomes apparent that this whole idea of a comedy slasher version of Groundhog Day was better off as one film than two. Attempts for Tree to die feel more like concepts they didn’t use in the first and decided to bring over in the sequel. The stakes still feel the same despite the new emotional angle that is convincing her to say. And despite the fact that this dimension is different, a lot of the aspects of it are still very much the same. Though it can be funny at times and that same emotional angle is a nice change of pace, there are just too many flaws that makes us hope the death sticks this time around.