[Review] Happy Death Day 2U

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in saying that Happy Death Day came out of nowhere and rocketed up my interest list from a “PG-13 slasher flick? PFFF! PASS!” to a “Wow this is actually very clever and funny!” I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong and wrong I was for misjudging the first one. It worked because it was a clever, meta take on an established genre, yes, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without the go-for-broke performance of Jessica Rothe as Tree Gelbman.

What I loved about her performance and her character was that she was able to embody two different types of slasher protagonists. She got to be the bitchy, vacuous and vaguely promiscuous character that usually is one of the first to die. But slowly, she also turned into the final girl, who puts others in front of herself and exemplifies all of the positive traits of the heroine. It’s really a clever conceit in a movie of clever conceits.

So, what does writer/director Christopher Landon do for a sequel? He reinvents the wheel and gives us a movie that does kind of replicate the structure of the original, but does so in a completely new way…for better and/or worse…depending on the timeline.

Happy Death Day 2U begins with Ryan Phan (Phi Vu), waking up in his car and stumbling back to his dorm. As a viewer, we’re instantly cataloguing everything that happens on his journey, knowing that we’ll probably be seeing this again. Turns out, we do, after seeing something that probably explains why the first movie happened and then witnessing Ryan’s death at the hands of…what do we call him/her? Babyface?

The first act feels, in a lot of ways, a male-focused retread of Happy Death Day, but then something happens and we’re back to following Tree on her birthday (she ain’t gotta pick up the phone). Except something’s different. A lot of somethings, in fact. And, without spoiling anything, Tree has to find a way to right everything and get back to normal.

Hey, it’s my birthday

This movie is a terrible sequel. The madcap insanity that propelled the original is missing from this and it turns out that trying to solve a quantum physics problem is less exciting than trying to discover who the killer is. It’s not even really a slasher anymore. The central mystery is completely gone and the movie can feel a bit repetitive, particularly with the middle montage showcasing the ways Tree resets the timeline. The stakes don’t feel as high this time around, particularly since for a bit, Tree doesn’t seem concerned with her health or her deaths, even though we know the first time around it leaves internal scars.

The reveal of the killer feels perfunctory, whereas in the original it was revelatory, and it doesn’t have the same shock value or twist. To make matters worse, Tree doesn’t have any real character development and ends the movie pretty much in the same emotional state she begins it in.

Hey, it’s my birthday

This movie is a fantastic sequel. The madcap insanity that propelled the original is replaced by an emotional center that is reminiscent of the stakes at play in another PG-13 horror movie, The Final Girls. It’s not even really a slasher anymore. The central mystery is gone, but we have a more mature film that deals with familial issues, the loss of a parent and it forces Tree to come to a reckoning about her past for the first time. Whereas her parents featured very briefly in the original movie and where the figurative ghost of her mother hung over the events, the sequel actually tackles their relationship is a very interesting way.

It’s filled with even more zany fun and Jessica Rothe soars in her role. The music is fantastic and references Back to the Future in the best ways, including some direct callbacks to particular song cues. The cast of characters all get their moments to shine. Whereas they felt like props in the original, characters such as Danielle (Rachel Matthews) are given fantastic moments and character beats.

Hey, it’s my birthday

This movie is………..whoa. Anyone else feel a sense of déjà vu? Like I’m trying to tackle my conflicted thoughts about a movie as if it can only exist on two extremities of love and hate? But neither path really does the movie justice? And so I’m kind of doomed to repeat my review over and over to the point that I’ll never hit “submit” because to do so I’d have to admit that, oh shit here we go agai—

Hey it’s my-

I get it! I fucking get it (and a PG-13 rating, to boot), already. Somewhere between these two extremes sits my feelings for this crazy sequel. It’s both a fantastic and audacious sequel that is willing to kill its darlings and be different, while simultaneously…well, unfortunately killing its darlings and being completely different. I can easily flit back and forth in two different dimensions where I can both love and be slightly disappointed by the movie. For every review I read that hates it, I can counter with reasons to love it. And vice versa.

It does things that an incredibly successful horror film wouldn’t normally do. And I found it incredibly ambitious in its storytelling and willingness to be weird. It could have easily been a retread of the first film. It could have done what the first act and trailers seemed to suggest and just followed another character haunted by some wordless killer. A Final Destination-like series that rested on the novelty of its core conceit.

But Christopher Landon sidesteps that. There’s nothing by-the-books about this sequel. I loved how he was able to make this universe bigger, but also not lose track of the characters. How he was even able to give them more character and not treat them as simple fodder. And like it or not, you have to give him credit for that. I also think its a film that might only get better with additional viewings.

With a mid-credits scene that had me rolling with laughter at the possibilities a third movie could contain, I can safely say I am here for wherever Christopher takes us next.