5 seconds- that’s all it takes for Happy Death Day 2U to let the audience know it’s going to be a very different type of sequel. Whereas the first film begins with the Universal Pictures logo repeating itself over and over again, this one features the same logo splitting into three separate logos, clue-ing us in that this is no run-of-the-mill retread of the original.
The first Happy Death Day was something of a sleeper hit. Directed by Christopher Landon, the film followed Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe), a snarky college student who gets murdered on her birthday and finds herself reliving it over and over again, setting off a quest to find her killer. Although the premise is far from original, Happy Death Day worked because of its sense of humor and a tour-de-force lead performance from Rothe.
Landon and the folks at Blumhouse apparently recognized this, because these two factors are the focus of Happy Death Day 2U. Yes, there’s still a killer on the loose, but to call that the focus of the movie would be a stretch. Instead, we begin our film by revealing exactly what caused the time loops in the first place- a device created by Ryan (Phi Vu), the roommate of Tree’s boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard).
Yeah, I didn’t believe it either. Right before my very eyes, the straightforward slasher conceit of the original was replaced by a heavy dose of science fiction that only increased once the machine explodes and lands Tree in another time loop where there’s yet another killer on the loose.
As noted before, that killer is hardly essential to the plot here. The focus is on repairing the device to stop the time loop for good, with quite a few plot elements I can’t get into due to spoilers.
At first, the shift in genres was jarring to the point of disbelief, abandoning so much of the core of the original. However, as the film goes on, it’s hard not to roll with it, simply because Landon is willing to throw anything and everything at the wall. Many of the science fiction ideas in the plotline are stuff we’ve seen before, but there are so many of them that it creates an atmosphere where anything could happen.
Moreover, the sense of humor on display here is top notch. Nothing is taken too seriously and if there’s an opportunity for a gag, Landon takes it. For every bit that falls flat, there’s another just around the corner that plays like gangbusters, such as a montage where Tree has to force herself to die repeatedly in crazy new ways.
Easily the best part of the film is once again Jessica Rothe’s performance. Not only is she reacting to a time loop- now she’s in an entirely different world that gives ample opportunity for Rothe to bring on the wild-eyed mania that makes Tree so fun to watch. What I wasn’t expecting was the newfound sensitivity she brings to the role- unlock most horror protagonist Tree actually experiences some real growth in this sequel.
Growth is the key word when talking about Happy Death Day 2U. While not all of its ideas play out and the genre leap from horror to sci-fi may prove too big a gap to cross, this is an excellent sequel that tops the original, establishing Happy Death Day as a franchise to look out for.