Back in 2017, Happy Death Day felt like a shot of silliness to revitalise the ailing slasher genre. Christopher Landon’s film was yet another stroke of low-budget horror genius from the team at Blumhouse Productions and introduced the world to Jessica Rothe – our newest ‘Scream Queen’. Less than two years later, Rothe and Landon are back for Happy Death Day 2U, which is not an everyday sequel by any stretch.
The action picks up where the previous film concluded, but through the eyes of Ryan (Phi Vu) – the verbally inelegant roommate of Carter (Israel Broussard). Having slept in his car, Ryan discovers Carter celebrating Tree’s (Rothe) escape from the time loop she was trapped in throughout the first movie. Kicked out of his room again, Ryan has a pretty miserable day, which culminates in his murder at the hands of a very familiar-looking assailant in a baby mask.
It’s here that the narrative zigs when everyone expects it to zag, introducing Ryan’s science experiment – “the Sisyphus Quantum Cooling Reactor, or Sisy for short” – as the root cause of the first film’s time loop. A series of contrivances sees Tree knocked back into the same time loop, complicated by the fact her own roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) is not the killer this time and the world seems different in a number of subtle, but significant, ways.
Early on in the film, Broussard’s character quips that “this kinda reminds me of Back to the Future 2“, and that’s very much where this film positions itself. Where the first movie maintained a reasonable undercurrent of horror, this one is more of a comedic sci-fi tale that only occasionally segues into stalk-and-slash territory. The change of tone suits Landon’s quirky directorial style, as well as Rothe’s knowing performance.
As with the original Happy Death Day, it’s Rothe who is clearly the star. She’s a magnetic presence with just the right amount of snark and disbelief to sell the absurd premise, as well as boasting an A-grade scream of terror. This time around, the story asks more of Rothe from an emotional perspective, and she’s able to deliver. In amongst the wild comedy – including a very inventive suicide montage – there’s a real emotional centre to this sequel, which Rothe rises to with all of her ability.
Things certainly don’t feel as fresh as they did back in 2017, and Happy Death Day 2U spends so much time retracing the steps of its predecessor that it’s one for fans only. Those fans, however, will find a great deal to enjoy in a film that embraces silliness in delivering yet another solution to the initial movie’s mystery. Landon wastes no time in ruling out Modine’s Lori as the killer and subsequently spinning the roulette wheel for something different. By the time the film solves that mystery – by way of a terrific, villainous slow clap – it’s another fun outcome, albeit one that isn’t quite as satisfying as the last.
And that’s a common theme in this movie, which never quite comes up to the level of the one that came before it. While the first Happy Death Day benefited from a clear focus on Tree, this one introduces an expanded ensemble of characters, only to give them short shrift. Vu doesn’t get a great deal to do as Ryan despite his initial spotlight, while his buddies Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin) are virtually blank slates, other than a brief chat they have about Han Solo and the Kessel Run. Rachel Matthews also gets a little more screen time as sorority leader Danielle, but there’s a sense that she isn’t quite being utilised as much as she should be either.
For all of its flaws, there’s an undeniable joy to the way Happy Death Day 2U embraces the absurd innovation of its premise. There’s a weirdness to the structure – there’s no real second act, just an opening and then an hour of false endings – but Landon is focused on delivering a wild ride that holds together surprisingly well, despite the increased narrative complication.
Enough for a third movie to work? I’d certainly be happy to hop into the loop one more time.
Dir: Christopher Landon
Scr: Christopher Landon
Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma, Sarah Yarkin, Rachel Matthews, Ruby Modine, Charles Aitken, Steve Zissis, Rob Mello
Prd: Jason Blum
DOP: Toby Oliver
Music: Bear McCreary
Run time: 100 mins
Happy Death Day 2U is in UK cinemas now.