Happy Death Day 2U, 2019.
Written and Directed by Christopher Landon.
Starring Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma, Sarah Yarkin, Rachel Matthews, and Ruby Modine.
Tree Gelbman learns that dying over and over again was surprisingly easier than the dangers that lie ahead.
So, here’s a little bit of insider information regarding critics screenings that’s also relevant to this review. Following the screening of most titles, we are prompted by publicists to give a line of feedback to the studio (this has nothing to do with star ratings or commercial marketing) simply stating quick straightforward thoughts. A short while ago in 2017 (it’s almost remarkable in itself how quickly a sequel to Happy Death Day was fast-tracked) my hot-take was that writer and director Christopher Landon (who does indeed return for this follow-up) squandered the tantalizing premise of Groundhog Day meets slasher flicks, coming up short in terms of creativity. I’m also sure the majority of the general public echoed the same sentiments.
Now, most of the time it feels like these concise and generalized thoughts end up lost in a digital vacuum and never actually taken to heart, but Happy Death Day 2U actually addresses head-on the first film’s half-baked imagination. Within roughly 10 minutes, we are introduced to a multi-verse that adds complexity to the familiar mystery (the terrifying snaggletoothed adult baby mascot of the college university is racking up more kills under a new identity) and an amusing spin on various different characters and personalities to, of all things, add dramatic heft and some romance to the proceedings, that does not always work.
In an alternate dimension, Tree’s (a returning Jessica Rothe who is more battle-hardened and accustomed to being hunted, almost resembling the evolution of Sarah Connor from The Terminator to Terminator 2: Judgment Day although maintaining the expected character traits of a college woman navigating her studies, partying, and the dating scene) tragically deceased mother is still alive. Obviously, there is a catch, as her boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard) is together with Danielle (Rachel Matthews, receiving wildly different material to work with this time around and delivering a very funny, notable performance in the process) in this dimension, who you might recall from the first film as selfish, rude, and obnoxious, flipped here as a ditzy but kind and generous soul. Due to a lab experiment gone wrong by Ryan (Phi Vu is given a larger role here meant to capitalize on his strong comedic timing and delivery), Tree finds herself in another time loop, but in a questionable creative decision, on her same birthday as seen in the original film, complete with the annoying birthday song I was hoping to never hear again in my life.
Happy Death Day 2U is a corrupted wish; on one hand, the narrative is pushing the envelope further, turning it into Groundhog Day meets Back to the Future meets slasher movies, but bafflingly it takes all of those things and also meets Happy Death Day, an experience that has not even aged two full years yet. It’s a remix that shuffles around character motives and twists, shoving in out-of-place sentimental nonsense. In this case, it’s not a good thing when a character in the movie actually chastises a situation for being too dramatic. There is nothing wrong with giving Tree the difficult choice of choosing which dimension she wants to continue to live in, but too many times it felt like the film had strayed entirely away from horror into some other weird oddity that is attempting so many different things, I halfway admire it.
Introducing alternate dimensions is a terrific idea, but why bring us back to events we have already seen? It’s a lazy writing tactic; you can still mess with the personalities of the remaining characters, introduce some new ones, bring back Tree’s mom to create conflict, and create an entire new chilling string of murders around that, serving as the backbone to the story. Let’s be realistic, the sequel is not going to have the same twist, so that already eliminates some possibilities, but I will give credit where credit is due and confess the identity of the killer caught me off guard here far more than in the first film (which was blatantly obvious and adhered to mystery screenplay writing 101).
The humor in Happy Death Day 2U is also an improvement over the first, containing a suicide montage full of outlandish deaths. The reasoning behind them is both practical for the mission and also rooted in complete jealousy, while the suicides themselves are silly enough to render as inoffensive. In general, comedy is doubled down on, making better use of certain actors and leaning into the ridiculousness of the whole narrative (save for those frustrating dramatic moments that belong in another movie entirely).
Jessica Rothe continues to be the MVP of this strangely fascinating series (it’s a blast witnessing her fed up with this shit, using her knowledge and aggressive determination to end this rerun as quickly as possible but getting so antsy she makes rookie mistakes), flaws and all, which already has a third entry confirmed. And judging from the post-credits sequence, things are about to get even crazier with a refreshing plot. It’s unfortunate that Happy Death Day 2U was content on rehashing the same central mystery, as it is better than the original in nearly every other way. It’s a light recommendation, but considering there are some romantic beats and the movie does release on Valentine’s Day, this is easily worth checking out. Maybe Universal will continue to listen to critics and audiences alike, fine-tuning the series to eventually let us have our cake and eat it too.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com