5.5 / 10
Jessica Rothe as Tree Gelbman
Happy Death Day 2U Review:
These rules are clear from decades of horror sequels about what’s probably going to happen. Make sure to do the same thing that people liked, but also do something new. Make sure that things people expect are turned up a notch, but also make sure there’s room to surprise them. Put your own spin on things, but also don’t change it too much. It may be notable that Happy Death Day 2U doesn’t exactly follow the expected sequel trappings or landmarks, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a worthy follow-up to the 2017 hit.
Picking up after the first movie, Happy Death Day 2U tells the ever-looping story of Tree Gelbman, who was previously caught in a time loop and forced to relive the same day over and over again while also being chased by a murderer. If you hadn’t seen the first movie, a unique piece of pop-horror, the sequel will make sure you understand what happened thanks to a clunky and overbaked first act. The new film turns the premise on its head though, as the loop Tree finds herself in once again is now changed. The killer from the first time around is dead, people that didn’t know each other are now dating, and familiar faces that were long gone are back. Unfortunately, this is about where the film’s fresh ideas run out.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Happy Death Day 2U is in its inconsistencies. The film goes out of its way to provide meaningful explanations for things in the first movie that would didn’t need them, but then strays down a story path that has no explanation behind it at all. It breaks its own rules in ways that bend the story out of its configuration as a horror-comedy into a sci-fi adventure movie. Not a bad thing inherently, but not a shift that entirely works. At a certain point the film simply forgets that it’s part of a horror franchise altogether, abandoning the shadows and creepy atmosphere that made the first film for set pieces that belong in something else entirely. Part of the genius of the first movie was putting this character through the ringer of slasher movie situations and flipping the script on the tropes but also on the character, almost none of which is to be had here.
It’s not a shock that the movie has its fair share of twists and turns, most of which are front-loaded and have plenty of weight to them, but others land with the thud of a dead fish. Goofy “twists” will no doubt become a key part of the series’ DNA (provided there’s room for a Happy Death Day 3-Peat) but the longer some of them stay behind a curtain the less interesting they end up being. Happy Death Day 2U plays its cards too close to the vest and lays down a pair of fives after high-stakes betting.
It’s not all for naught though, as star Jessica Rothe once again delivers an outstanding performance. She manages to bring her A-game for every facet of the film including its scary bits (of which there are too few), its funny bits (which are far between but always hers), and its touching and tender moments (which are surprisingly moving and unexpected). She makes them all work in the moment, but as a cohesive piece, they don’t fit. Eventually Rothe will lead a drama that will make audiences ask where she’s been, and some of us will be able to point to Happy Death Day saying We Told You So.
With Happy Death Day 2U, director Christopher Landon has crafted a movie that wears its influences on its sleeve. It’s easy to go with the movie’s high-concept premiere, and anchoring its exposition in pop-culture doesn’t hurt, but if the audience is here to see the movie it’s because we’re already down for a wacky story with a baby-masked killer at the center. It’s the best parts of Scream 2 with its easy sequel jokes and meta deep-dive, and the worst parts of Scream 3 as it loses its way along the path and makes inherently dopey connections to its predecessor. There’s some fun to be had, but it’s not a birthday surprise as satisfying as the first go-around.