Film Review: Happy Death Day 2U (dir by Christopher B. Landon)


I have to admit that, when I first heard that Blumhouse was going to be producing a sequel to 2017’s Happy Death Day, I wasn’t surprised.  After all, every successful horror film gets a sequel.  That’s just the way the business work.  However, I will admit to being very skeptical.

I mean, the first film was a genuinely clever and witty mix of Groundhog Day and Scream.  It was often laugh-out-loud funny and, in a perfect world, Jessica Rothe’s lead performance as Tree Geldman would have been nominated for, at the very least, a Golden Globe.  It was also a surprisingly effective horror film.  The Baby Face Killer was as frightening as she was ludicrous.  Still, at the end of the film, it was hard not to feel that Tree’s story was finished.  When I heard there was a sequel, I was like, “What?  Is she going to start reliving a second day with a new killer over and over again?”

Well, it turns out that I was partially correct about the plot but I was pretty much wrong in my skepticism.  This is a sequel that works surprisingly well.

In Happy Death Day 2U, Tree once again finds herself having to live September 18th over and over again.  However, this time, it’s not just so Tree can become a better human being and discover who is targeting her.  This time, we actually find out why Tree ended up stuck in that time loop in the first place.  It turns out that Carter’s (Israel Broussard, returning from the first film) roommate, Ryan (Phil Vu), has built some sort of experimental quantum reactor and, whenever it’s turned on, it can create time loops and send people to alternate realities.  It’s all very science-y and director Christopher B. Landon is smart enough not to spend too much time lingering over all the details.  Everyone in the film agrees that quantum reactor does what they say that it does and that’s really all we need to know.

Anyway, Tree is once again reliving her birthday but now, she’s reliving it in an alternate reality.  That means that there’s a bunch of little difference to deal with.  For one thing, even though someone is still determined to kill her, it’s no longer her roommate, Lori (Ruby Modine).  For another thing, Carter is now dating the wonderfully shallow Danielle (Rachel Matthews).  Perhaps the biggest change of all is that Tree’s mother (played by Missy Yager) is still alive in this alternate reality.

Not wanting to lose her mother for a second time, Tree decides that she wants to stay in this new reality.  But, to do this, the time loop that was opened by the big science thing needs to be closed.  Otherwise, Tree is going to be doomed to keep reliving the same day over and over again….

And it get even more complicated from there.  Happy Death Day 2U is an extremely busy film, mixing Back To The Future-style science fiction with the Groundhog Day/slasher film plot of the first film.  And yet, surprisingly, the sequel actually works really well.  If the first film was a horror film with elements of comedy, this sequel is a straight-out comedy that cheerfully satirizes both the horror and the science fiction genres.

Jessica Rothe gives another wonderful performance in the lead role.  Her fury upon discovering that she’s going to have to relive September 18th all over again is both funny and relatable.  The film’s emotional heart is found in Tree’s relationship with her mother and the scene where Tree discovers that she now has pictures that document years of new memories with her mom is wonderfully played Rothe and is one of the best in the film.  That scene brought tears to my mismatched eyes.  I lost my mom a little over ten years ago so, in that moment, it didn’t matter that there was a Babyface Killer out there or that there was some sort of quantum reactor doing something.  At that moment, I knew exactly what Tree was feeling and the movie’s emotions became very real.

Happy Death Day 2U took me by surprise.  While it may not have the freshness of the first film (and really, that’s to be expected when it comes to sequels), it’s still a heartfelt and entertaining mix of comedy, horror, and science fiction.  Unfortunately, it did not duplicate the first film’s box office success so it may be the final Death Day film.

Then again, Tree’s earned a few days off….