Happy Death Day 2U Review: This Time, With Feeling

Happy Death Day 2U Happy Death Day 2U (photo Universal)

The time-looping Blumhouse hit returns for a sequel that switches from slasher to sci-fi comedy to delightful results.

Horror rules dictate that sequels are rarely, if ever, as good as the first movie. No matter the quality of the original, the studio’s desire for another hit will inevitably mean they produce an uninspired and watered down version of a movie we’ve seen before. This fate befell the titans of the genre, so what hope does Happy Death Day 2U have for being a good film? Surprisingly, not only is 2U as good as Happy Death, it’s better.

When the cast and crew of the original returns for the sequel, it’s usually a good sign – proving that they can still get excited for something they’ve done before. Not only is the main cast returning in front of the camera, but original director Christopher Landon and cinematographer Toby Oliver are back behind it. This makes 2U a natural continuation of the first film, especially visually, with Oliver keeping a similar cinematic style, as well as the sets and costumes (most notably the killer’s babyface mask) being completely unchanged. Landon makes sure that both the characters and time travel rules are consistent from one film to the next, and the attention to detail shows his passion for the franchise. That said, it’s hard to get into 2U if you haven’t watched the first film, so viewers unfamiliar with the first should watch it beforehand.  

2U starts the day after the titular “Death Day” – protagonist Tree (Jessica Rothe) has escaped the loop and defeated both her psychotic roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) and serial killer John Tombs (Rob Mello) with the help of romantic interest, Carter (Israel Broussard). However, Carter’s roommate, Ryan (Phi Vu) reveals that he has been killed by Babyface, only for him to wake up again. Realizing that the loop has moved onto someone else, Tree helps Ryan confront the killer, who turns out to be…Ryan.

This is where 2U eschews its slasher origins, opting instead to switch gears into sci-fi comedy. It turns out Ryan has created the machine that is causing the time loops (thematically named “Sisyphus”-or sissy for short). Through a series of convoluted events, Tree is transported to an alternate dimension where Carter is dating sorority leader, Danielle (Rachel Matthews); Lori is not trying to kill Tree, but there is another Babyface on the loose; and most importantly, Tree’s dead mother is alive. Since the time loop prevents Ryan and his colleagues from being able to track their data, Tree must memorize the formulas, and kills herself so she can avoid being killed by Babyface. But, does Tree want to return to a universe where her mother is no longer alive?

The change in genre is the best twist Landon could take for the franchise, playing to the series’ strengths as a lightweight, stylish genre comedy. The original Death Day was fun, but not a particularly scary slasher. In 2U the slasher elements are relegated to the first and third acts, and are more suspenseful than scary. The second act, however, focuses squarely on comedy and character development, and these elements are so strong that you don’t really miss Babyface.

Most of the comedy in 2U is set up in the character interactions. The cast has a great chemistry, and while the film isn’t particularly quotable in everyday conversation, in context the one liners and jokes almost always land. More of a mixed bag is the physical humor, which ranges from entertaining to juvenile. The more entertaining physical jokes are the set pieces for Tree’s suicides, with the more memorable ones being her skydiving sans parachute in a bikini and her jumping into a wood chipper. In contrast, the slapstick feels like it was put in the film to appeal to 12 year olds, with one scene where Danielle pretends to be blind to distract the Dean (Steve Zizzis) feels like it came out of a sociopathic Disney Channel TV Movie. Still, while the humor doesn’t always land, the film is funny overall.

The stronger element is Tree’s character development, and Landon (who also wrote the script) has to be commended, along with Rothe’s portrayal. The first film had Tree going from stereotypical mean girl to genuinely nice person, and 2U thankfully does not have her revert to being a jerk. Instead, the film has Tree face the dilemma of whether she should live in the world where she has her mother, or one where Carter loves her. The themes of learning to let go of the past to take a chance on the future are actually poignant, and there is an earnest scene where Tree has a conversation with her mother that is truly touching.

Given the series’ freedom to play with genre, I hope that they continue the franchise as a sci-fi comedy and not a horror movie. Maybe Universal (the distributor for the Death Day films) will want to reboot their Dark Universe Idea with the Death Day Franchise; I think a movie where Jessica Rothe has to repeat the same day as different classic monsters would be a real winner.  

Happy Death Day 2U Trailer

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