Opening with a side character from the original film who maneuvers through a day in his life until an untimely demise, Happy Death Day 2U starts off on a high note. It’s silly, self-aware, and seems hellbent on expanding upon the first movie’s take on the slasher genre with an even more intricate science fiction twist. However, the result, unfortunately, contains two separate films within it, with one being not only far more interesting than the other but also far less prominent. Happy Death Day 2U is mildly entertaining but finds itself rehashing the original film far too much and in far less engaging ways.
When Ryan (Phi Vu) finds himself reliving the same day after a baby-masked murderer kills him, Tree (Jessica Rothe) finds herself obligated to help break him out of the same Groundhog Day loop that she was trapped in the day before. There’s always a scientific explanation for everything, and Tree eventually finds herself in a parallel universe where she is forced to relive the same day as the original film, again and again. That is, unless she can figure out a way for Ryan, Carter (Israel Broussard), and his labmates to utilize quantum mechanics to get her back to her own universe — or at least keep her in this parallel one. The moral dilemma begins here, as Tree decides what life she’d rather live, and whether she’s okay with sacrificing her own memories for a life she believes she wants.
Rather than explore the science fiction conceit — as well as a first act twist with Ryan that never manifests again — Happy Death Day 2U tries to be a Back to the Future version of the original film. It’s still Groundhog Day, but instead of the purpose being to try getting out of a loop to survive, she’s trying to get out of a loop to exist. That’s it. The emotional core revolves around her deciding which universe she wants to exist in, but there’s no real subversion of expectations here. The most disappointing thing is that the film has the opportunity to explore an incredibly ambitious concept, but instead relegates it to a way of bookending the original film.
The tried-and-true formula is what holds Happy Death Day 2U back from ever being great
Most unfortunate is that a more character-driven narrative would be totally welcome, had it been more different than the same character development that happens in the first. Instead of Tree having to stop being a human piece of garbage, this time she’s now learning to be less selfish. That she is learning a new way of being a better person is fine, but like the science fiction stuff, it feels like a half-assed attempt at development that conveniently gets forgotten whenever the movie needs to inject a horror beat or have fun with the idea of suicide.
The tried-and-true formula is what holds Happy Death Day 2U back from ever being great. It features the same montage of kills (though in this case, suicides), pretty much the exact same cast of characters, and all the same locales. Jessica Rothe even continues to shine, in much of the same way as she did in the first movie. It’s a contained film that teases the prospect of something bigger, but can’t manage to find a way to weave it in without sacrificing what audiences enjoyed the first time around. Yet, those things that made the original great are undercut by having been experienced over and over and over again in that previous film.
This sequel even manages to remove any tension that the original had, seeming to introduce a ticking clock to the narrative because otherwise there’d be no tension. Writer/director Christopher Landon utilizes it multiple times throughout the painfully redundant 100-minute runtime, and there is a significant lack of concern for Tree’s well-being because of the fact that this time she kills herself over and over, as opposed to being killed over and over by someone else. It’s logical that she knows the sequence of events so well that there’s no way anyone could get to her, but it doesn’t really make for an entertaining movie beyond the gleeful ways in which she commits suicide. There’s not even any mystery at play beyond the arbitrary justification they put around her having to kill herself.
The largest fault in Happy Death Day 2U is that it parades around like it still retains all of the appeal of the original. It looks like Happy Death Day and it moves like Happy Death Day, but something’s just not right. It seems to be from a parallel universe itself, similar to the original but surprisingly lacking in creativity and a commitment to any of its ambitious ideas. By the third act, the experience feels like a rushed affair to wrap everything up in reverse order of when each issue was introduced. Oddly enough, it’s still an okay movie to sit through, with tantalizing concepts ready to be explored if Landon and Blumhouse re-team again for a third film. This one, however, lacks the impact of its predecessor and feels like a movie frightened to move in new directions. Happy Death Day 2U seems content with reliving the same plot, but with minor deviations to keep things slightly fresh.