The original Happy Death Day was a film that got a ton of eye-rolling when its original trailer released. Many assumed this would be another poorly made horror film that would be quickly forgotten like The Bye Bye Man. Yet, Happy Death Day ended up being a refreshing surprise that not only delivered great scares but was pretty damn funny. Enter Happy Death Day 2U, a direct sequel that ditches most of the horror for the comforting embrace of sci-fi.
Discussing the general plot of Happy Death Day 2U is a bit tricky since the movie relies on hurling twist after twist at the viewer. Because of this, we will have a spoiler section that delves a bit deeper into the plot. There’s a remarkable amount of confidence behind the different shifts in tone and genre.
Without divulging too much, Happy Death Day 2U once again follows college student Tree (Jessica Rothe) who, by a series of unfortunate events, ends up trapped in the time loop again. There’s a masked killer stalking Tree and she reawakens at the beginning of the same day each time she dies.
However, things aren’t as they first appear and Tree soon learns that events, people, and relationships have changed. Going into anything more would ruin the film, but remarkable how director Christopher Landon manages to keep the story from going completely off the rails.
A lot of this is due to the smart decision to just embrace the silliness of Tree’s situation and lean into the absurdity of constantly dying. Most of the jokes land and Rothe boasts some natural comedic timing.
Problems do start to pop up when Happy Death Day 2U remembers that there is a killer we actually have to stop. It feels incredibly rushed, almost as if Ladon completely forgot the entire set-up to his own movie.
Even the big reveal lacks the emotional gut punch of the first. A lot of this is due to Happy Death Day 2U relegating the Baby Mask killer to the background. The murderer literally just vanishes for half the film, which makes the movie’s literal ticking clock lacks a sense of urgency.
The big surprise this time around is that a science project made by one of the students from the previous film was the cause for the time loop. In an effort to stop it, Tree and her friends try to use the device but that ends up creating multiple realities. No seriously, Happy Death Day 2U goes all DC Comics and sets the film in an alternate world.
While this is a bit jarring at first, it does serve as a clever way to keep the audience on their toes since some events are completely different. The big one being that Tree’s mother isn’t dead in this universe, which acts as the moral and emotional backbone for the film. It adds a fair amount of emotional weight and purposes an intriguing moral conundrum for Tree.
Even with the bonkers setting of Happy Death Day 2U, Jessica Rothe does a fantastic job selling the inner struggle Tree is facing. You can really feel the torment she is under, especially during the final moments when Tree has to decide whether to stay or go back to her reality. A lot of this is thanks to the great chemistry between Tree and her mother Julie (Missy Yager). Both really sell their relationship, especially Rothe who walks the fine line between
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Where Happy Death Day 2U struggles is with its support cast. Despite having some fun moments between themselves, they really don’t add much to the plot. This wasn’t much of an issue in the first since it mainly focused on Tree, but that’s not the case this time around. Landon spends a fair amount of time with the other students, yet we never learn anything about them. This is even more puzzling since the science student Ryan (Phi Yu) has a dramatic impact on the overall plot, but he feels like an afterthought.
Tree’s love interest Carter (Israel Broussard) also doesn’t serve much of a purpose. He doesn’t really develop as a character and Tree’s relationship with him doesn’t take any unique or compelling turns. The film’s big twist also undermines the character’s arc, which makes a lot of the moments between him and Tree just awkward. Sure the duo is great together on-screen, but it just never goes in a satisfying or compelling direction.
Happy Death Day 2U is at its best when it accepts how silly and ridiculous the film’s premise is. Instead of just repeating the same gag, the film wisely goes a completely different direction and asks the audience to strap in for the ride. Sadly, this does come at the expense of the killer basically never existing and most of the supporting cast offering very little to the plot. Yet, thanks to Rothe’s commanding performance as Tree, Happy Death Day 2U is an enjoyable, if slightly underwhelming sequel.