When Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day came out in theaters two years ago, it was the perfect cooked up slasher in time for Halloween. It gave us the lurking suspense, a new masked killer to fear, sharp wits, and paved the way for a new scream queen on campus, Jessica Rothe. Oh, how we’ve missed her! Tree Gelbman is back for more Baby Face shenanigans in Landon’s follow up, Happy Death Day 2U. Surprisingly more funny and comfortable in its world building this time around, the sequel to the aforementioned slasher is light on the terror and more invested in its potential to concoct a genre-bending outing. Maybe not so scary after all, but stay along for a film that’ll pump some tears outta you while not taking itself too seriously.
Landon has had a critically lukewarm filmography, penning four installments of the Paranormal Activity franchise and directing the quite fun and well received Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015). His 2017 slasher hit all the right notes with fans, nose diving into demented Groundhog Day turf for a good time with audiences. HDD2U is a much more self aware anecdote to the first feature, letting us laugh and sympathize as Tree Gelbman is dealt some pretty tough cards when her reality is a few algorithms out of touch. Landon’s new film is a dab on Back to the Future Part ll (which comes up naturally in conversation at one point in the film), where his script finds the viability to flex its science fiction tendencies. This time, Tree’s got bigger problems than a cute, poisonous cupcake to worry about. Pulling metaphysics and multiverse theory into the mix, Happy Death Day 2U is a much more superficial experience than its suspenseful predecessor, and it kind of works.
The film starts off with Carter’s roommate, Ryan (Phi Vu), who we spend the first ten minutes with as he wakes up and gets out of his trashy Kia Soul and heads to his dorm. A dog barks at him, a homeless man asks for spare change, he barges in on Tree and Carter, goes to meet his classmate friends, gets killed in a closet and wakes up again in his car. This sounds familiar, right? Just as Tree spent her Monday the 18th dying over and over again until she cracked her masked murderer mystery, it seems reality is bended and now this is all happening to Ryan. When we learn just how involved this once-secondary-character is to the twisted new plot, you learn to suspend some belief as the Happy Death Day universe gets turned on its head. Relinquishing the horror elements it cased into the previous film, there’s an argument to be had for the ways this film embarks on fun risks and heart all for our entertainment.
Jessica Rothe single-handedly steers this film into indulgent success, reminiscing on the quirks of its predecessor while going all in on the film’s poignant dramatic beats. Truth is, she should be getting casted left and right because her acting chops are real and they’re here to stay, baby. Tree Gelbman used to be just another lighthearted snob, and with Rothe’s transformative range, her character experiences the most painful nostalgias in alternate states and breathes humanity into the absurd around it. This film has a surprising amount of heart to contrast its playful blunders and it circles back to the feeling that the film has the freedom to blend it this way. Happy Death Day was somewhat of a sleeper hit, grossing fans as it did profit. The story didn’t conclude with us expecting another film, but with the new production, it found its nonsensical creative footing. Some would argue its marketing misleads the audience into expecting the same formula, but delightfully, HDD2U unravels and presents us with whimsical suspensions and exciting new ideas.
While it may’ve been an utter risk to make this sequel, the payoff comes and goes in the tactics of its comedy and sci-fi bits. Where the first film offered up slices of fun suspense, Happy Death Day 2U dials back from the horror and makes way for more comedy, silliness, and heart. Maybe it’s better this way. There’s an argument that could be had on the ways this script disregards loopholes and puts Babyface killer on the benches, but that amounts to nothing when you have Jessica Rothe pulling up with charismatic charm and emotion. While the comedy gets cheesier, Rothe’s range gets better as Tree powers through parallel universe dilemmas and finds it in her to let her past go and look forward. It’s hard to think that Christopher Landon had anything other than fun while directing this project. The Happy Death Day franchise (Can we say this now?) leaves a threequel idea up in the air, thanks to a mid credits scene that is ultra sci-fi opening and could be taken as a quirky laying to cap it all off. But we don’t suspect Landon is totally through with this premise. There’s no way he can set up another film and not actually revisit this story and our badass heroine, Tree Gelbman. We know we’d love to be trapped in time loops with Tree once more!
Directed by: Christopher Landon
Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Rachel Mathews, Suraj Sharma, Sarah Yarkin