Back in 2017, Happy Death Day, Christopher Landon’s delightful horror romp, looked like a closed circuit. Much as its heroine, Tree (Jessica Rothe), found a way to cut off the time loop that caused her, Groundhog Day style, to relive ad infinitum a birthday that ended with violent death at the hands of a masked killer, Landon appeared to have crafted that rarest thing: a franchise-proof slasher. When Happy Death Day wraps up, Tree’s would-be murderer is dead, she has her life figured out, and she doesn’t have to do the time warp again. Fin!
But no film’s fully inoculated against the primal drive for more money, so here’s Happy Death Day 2U. The sequel opens on Ryan (Phi Vu), roomie of and pal to Carter (Israel Broussard), Tree’s love interest across timestreams, awakening in his car and running afoul of angry dogs, angry homeless people and angry students on his way back to his dorm. He goes about his day, takes a knife to the chest from a new Babyface killer, then wakes up to relive these mundane events. Turns out he’s responsible for that whole time loop thing. He’s a science nerd! For whatever baffling reason, he and fellow nerds Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin) have access to a crazy sci-fi plot device capable of —wait for it—creating quantum nonsense that births time loops. Ryan screws everything up afresh, forcing Tree to relive the same day again again, with a few key differences, and thus die more times than she has digits to save the day.
Happy Death Day 2U makes deliberate moves away from horror, adding both science fiction and comedy to muddle the original mixture for better and also worse. For better: The film is even more of a gas than its predecessor. For worse: It’s not as much of a horror movie. Happy Death Day 2U’s horror elements lean toward existential dread. Being stuck in a relentless cycle of routine is a terrifying idea. For many, it’s also too close to reality for comfort. Picture working a 9 to 5 job, performing the same tasks day in and day out, listening to the same sequence of awful news reported by radio and on TV, and reading the same “you won’t believe what happens next” clickbait posts.
Watching Rothe kill herself in as many ways as you like, from skydiving sans parachute to paying glorious, gory tribute to Tucker & Dale vs. Evil at the business end of a wood chipper, is a hoot, but even with the clear deemphasis on horror, Happy Death Day 2U finds other ways to tug at viewer emotions. Much of that work is done by Rothe. She has the difficult job of hopping back and forth from berserk to heartbroken throughout the film, struggling with her state of affairs: In this alternate timeline, Carter is dating Danielle (Rachel Matthews), Tree’s sorority president, and her mom is actually alive, which means that resetting the timeline back to normal means losing her all over again. What’s Tree to do? Save everyone she loves but lose Carter to Danielle? Go back to her own universe and virtually kill her mom? Making matters worse, there’s a maniac out there trying to wear your guts for garters, and Tree is more or less on her own, cleaning up a mess made by idiot geniuses, exasperatedly growing into an even better person in the process.
Happy Death Day 2U has been made once before, back in 2013, when Joseph Kahn dropped Detention on the world and blew minds by breaking formula. But Landon’s version is still pretty damn good, further evidence that Rothe is a superstar in the making and that even the most anti-franchise film can produce a surprisingly strong sequel with enough enthusiasm and brash creativity.
Director: Christopher Landon
Writer: Christopher Landon
Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma, Sarah Yarkin, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Steve Zissis
Release Date: February 13, 2019
Boston-based culture writer Andy Crump has been writing about film and television online since 2009 (and music since 2018). You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.