Are you ready to party like it’s your death day?
The prospect may sound ridiculous, but the Groundhog Day/slasher mashup Happy Death Day is back with a sequel. After debuting number one to unexpected success on Halloween weekend in 2017, Jason Blum has seen fit to greenlight a sequel under his burgeoning low-budget horror powerhouse Blumhouse Productions, and the gamble just might pay off. In Happy Death Day 2U, director Christopher Landon paints the town red toying with and expanding his crafty time loop premise, and fans of the first would be remiss to ignore this canny return to Monday the 18th.
On its surface, the original Happy Death Day looked like a run-of-the-mill horror season stand-in aimed at high school couples on their date nights, perhaps differentiated a bit by ripping off Bill Murray’s comedy classic Groundhog Day. While that to an extent was true, Happy Death Day was a pleasant surprise in that it offered so much more. The little-known Jessica Rothe impressed as a sheer delight in an all-in unrestrained and colorful performance, and writer Scott Lobdell managed to work in some sentimentality and wit the seasoned filmgoer would never see coming.
In Happy Death Day 2U, those morsels of creativity and imagination that made the original such a pleasure are ratcheted up a to whole new level. Christopher Landon returns as both writer and director this time around, and he takes what was an amusing horror-comedy with a time loop twist and goes full-blown high-concept sci-fi with it. Marketing the project as a horror film may prove to be a mistake, as horror fans may be turned away by a “slasher” that is less Scream and more Inception. Regardless, 2U is a genre-busting delicacy that everyone should be able to enjoy.
The original Happy Death Day began with college student “Tree” (Jessica Rothe) waking up after a long night of partying in the dorm room of a boy named Carter (Israel Broussard) on her birthday. After being rude to people all day long, she ended the night stabbed to death by an assassin in a baby mask. She then woke up doomed to repeat the same day over and over again, until she finally stopped the cycle by realizing her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) was behind the killing, and managed to put a stop to her for good, finally waking up on Tuesday the 19th.
Happy Death Day 2U picks things up on Tuesday the 19th, this time focusing on Carter’s roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) as he wakes up in his car, and treks back to his dorm room where Tree is with Carter and has just broken her curse. He then heads over to the quantum mechanics lab, where he is working with some students on a device to slow down time. Ryan later gets lured into a storage closet where a baby-masked assassin murders him. He then wakes up again to find he is repeating the same day, but lucky for him, he has a friend in Tree who can relate to his problem.
The trio of Tree, Ryan, and Carter then realize that it is Ryan’s quantum reactor that is causing the disruptions in time. Things then get very sci-fi very fast, and the film becomes increasingly complex and delightfully unpredictable as Christopher Landon has a ball playing with and tinkering with this wacky concept, throwing in enough doppelgängers, multi-verses, and parallel dimensions to make the average viewer’s head spin as they question what they signed up for. But for those who love a good nerdy romp in experimental storytelling, you’re in for a treat.
As far as I can tell, there has never been a sequel to a time loop premise before, as there certainly wasn’t one for Groundhog Day. You could glean from that one of two things: either the pursuit is hopelessly ill-advised, or there is a vast store of untapped potential to be mined there. Where you stand on the subject will likely determine your enjoyment of Happy Death Day 2U, but the onslaught of ideas as well as campy charms will likely put you in the latter camp. There is one thing for certain here though, that this is more of a sci-fi comedy than a slasher horror flick.
And that’s up to you whether that’s a problem. As the plot progresses, the convoluted narrative threatens to buckle under its own weight a-la Terminator Genisys as things get truly hard to follow in the third act, but Landon offers enough endearing revelry to make the trip worth it. One interesting change of pace is that for a portion of the film, Tree finds herself back in the time loop of Monday the 18th, only this time in an alternate dimension where Carter is dating her rival housemate Danielle (Rachel Matthews), and where her beloved mother hasn’t passed away.
The more comical differences in this reality are fun to spot, and give a chance for some cast members such as Matthews to flex their chops with more offbeat material, such as a truly silly sequence where Danielle pretends to be a blind French exchange student to distract a professor. Ryan’s oft-repeated crude entrance was one of the highlights of the original film, and Vu’s enhanced presence in the sequel allows his character to boost the film with a wide array of effective comedy. And Jessica Rothe is just as entertaining, perhaps here more so than ever.
Beyond just the more humorous aspects of the new reality, the alternate dimension allows the film to be enriched with some more impactful material as Tree comes face-to-face with her mother again, who was recently deceased in her version of the world. Here Landon injects a powerful theme in forging new paths, while also acknowledging the role loss plays in forming identity. Happy Death Day 2U isn’t much of a horror film, but the gleeful experimentation with space and time, as well as some more heartfelt material render this a worthwhile sequel.