Starring Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu
Written by Christopher Landon
Directed by Christopher Landon
Horror has always been a melting pot of genres. From the beginnings of cinema, horror has found its way into a wide variety of other genres. And vice-versa, too! There’s a reason we refer to some films as “horror comedies” or “sci-fi/horror”. No one genre is too pure to ever be a part of another one and sometimes that’s where the most magical combinations can occur. And so we draw our attention to Happy Death Day 2U, which is being hailed as a horror version of “Back to the Future Part II, something the film openly wears on its sleeves through direct references and composer Bear McCreary’s Alan Silvestri-inspired score.
“Collegian Tree Gelbman wakes up in horror to learn that she’s stuck in a parallel universe. Her boyfriend Carter is now with someone else, and her friends and fellow students seem to be completely different versions of themselves. When Tree discovers that Carter’s roommate has been altering time, she finds herself once again the target of a masked killer. When the psychopath starts to go after her inner circle, Tree soon realizes that she must die over and over again to save everyone.“
The first Happy Death Day was an extremely witty and highly entertaining slasher that wisely opted to completely ignore the “why” behind the plot’s mechanics and instead focus on what someone would do in that situation. Coupled with star Jessica Rothe’s phenomenal performance as Tree Gelbman, the movie developed a strong cult following. Rightfully so, I might add.
However, the very thing that the first film ignored is precisely what this sequel aims to answer. The reason for Tree’s recycled day is made apparent by Ryan (Vu) and his thesis experiment, a suitably sci-fi looking contraption that somehow affects the time space continuum…or something like that. See, for all its wants to explain why Tree is caught in this weird loop, it conveniently fails to address some very basic questions, such as why is Tree the only one caught in the loop and why is she able to recognize it while others can’t? These questions are swept under the rug while the script tries to hammer the audience with techno-jargon in the hopes that we’ll conveniently ignore our unanswered and valid issues.
Still, the entire process of Tree helping Ryan and his lab partners is a fun sequence. Instead of investigating potential suspects, Tree must remember complex mathematic formulas while simultaneously electing to commit suicide rather than be killed, leading her to seek out the most bombastic methods she can imagine. Drop a hairdryer in the bathtub? Check. Pull a Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and leap into a wood chipper? Check. Jump out of an airplane in a bikini while flipping off the camera? Double check. There’s no doubt that there are a lot of laughs to be had here and that’s where there may be some disconnect with horror fans. This is 100% not a fully committed horror film. In fact, it’s far more dark comedy and sci-fi than slasher this time around, so prepare yourself for that.
All that being said, the glee with which Tree takes ownership of her multiple suicides is slightly off-putting, especially considering she constantly faces and complains about the pain of each return. Since the deaths she elects affect her body at the beginning of each loop, why then does she choose such painful options?
The Babyface killer from the first film is still present here but it has been moved from a primary focus past a secondary concern to a tertiary sidebar that occupies barely any screen time. Gone is the “whodunnit” thrill of the first film for a reveal that is slapped together at the last second with an additional “twist” that feels trite, unbelievable, and dismissive. It’s easily the weakest point of the film, feeling like it was only kept in because the first film had it.
Perhaps the strongest element of the film is the idea of growth as a person. In this new dimension, Tree’s mother is still alive. This leads to her trying to figure out which dimension she wants to stay in, the one where her mother is dead but she’s with Carter (Broussard) or the one she’s in now, where her mother is alive but Carter is with Danielle (Rachel Matthews)? The scenes where Tree and her mother interact are, thanks once again to Rothe’s fantastic performance, genuinely emotional, so the decision Tree has to make bears real consequences.
Not to bang on about Rothe’s performance but she really does steal the show. It’s all the more obvious when we see wooden acting and stupid decisions from much of the other cast. Vu, who is integral this time around, does strange movements that don’t feel natural, such as flinch when his phone vibrates in his pocket, something no human does anymore. Carter picks up a character who was recently shot, something that seems obvious but it’s done in a hospital while nurses are in the same hall. Furthermore, the names of the secondary characters are forgettable. Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin) are important secondary characters but I couldn’t name them without the help of IMDb if Babyface had a knife to my throat.
At the end of the day, Happy Death Day 2U is undoubtedly going to divide audiences. Starting off as a slasher and then moving into a sci-fi time loop comedy while injecting serious drama, the film certainly runs the gamut. While it undoubtedly stumbles along the way, there’s no doubt that it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Happy Death Day 2U loses the snappiness of the first film while injecting a substantial amount of gleeful absurdity. It won’t please everyone but you’ll be flat out lying if say you were bored.