When it comes to sequels, you can usually find me reluctantly in the back row. I’m still there opening weekend, mainly to support any and every horror film that graces my local theatre, but I’m definitely passive aggressive about it. Which makes both my review and watching experience of Happy Death Day 2U ..a little more complicated. It’s not your average sequel, and it’s quickly evolved into something far more complex than your standard slasher.
Happy Death Day 2U kicks off where the first film ended. (Some quick spoilers to catch you up to speed.) Ego maniacal Millennial Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) is a survivor. After being murdered about a dozen times by a masked Babyface killer, each time waking up to repeat the day, she ends the anomaly by solving her own whodunnit. Though most of the first film had us convinced the masked assailant was a convict being treated at the local teaching hospital, it was instead Tree’s roommate and close friend Lori (Ruby Modine) blinded by the green-eyed monster.. and the tiny eyeholes of the Babyface mask. With a swift boot out a second-story window, Tree’s life was back on track. Or so we thought..
Happy Death Day 2U will not go silently into the status quo. In a rare twist for standard slasher fare, this follow-up seeks instead to answer the why’s and how’s rather than simply bringing Babyface back from the dead. Blazing past meta, cruising over tropes, Happy Death Day 2U stabs right in the heart of …theoretical science fiction?
“[Happy Death Day 2U] seeks instead to answer the why’s and how’s rather than simply bringing Babyface back from the dead.”
In a way, this kind of makes sense. Director and writer Christopher Landon is also responsible for the expansion of Blumhouse’s first big horror franchise, Paranormal Activity – having written Paranormal Activity 2-4 + the Marked Ones; each growing upon the mythology created from the rather understated and simple premise of its low-budget forefather. Instead of opting for another haunted house, another igniting Ouija board – Landon added more branches to the paranormal tree, more roots under the soil. And it seems Happy Death Day is getting a similar treatment.
Roommate Ryan (Phi Vu), who was only granted a comedic relief bit-part in the first film, kicks off our sequel – stuck in a loop of his own, ending at the hands of a new Babyface killer. While following him on his not-so-standard day, we realize the key to it all – a quantum physics project he and two pals have conjured up for their thesis; that, until the day previous, hadn’t worked. But when death is on the table, time is of the essence. He entrusts the help of Happy Death Day leads Carter (Israel Broussard) and Tree to help solve the return of Babyface – until the characters clue-in that something quantum is up. Ryan rashly kicks up the quantum machine again to close the loops once and for all, and instead kicks Tree into straight back into her Happy Death Day. Only this time – things are slightly off.
Now, Tree must face the Babyface killer all over again. But this isn’t her universe. And this killer is different.
Did I say Happy Death Day 2U took a creative turn? Because I meant it. Kudos to everyone involved in crafting a truly original follow-up with an unprecedented amount of gusto. The only shame from going so hard into uncharted waters – is that we lose the magic of the Babyface killer entirely. The slasher elements become happenstance, and the Babyface falls by the wayside, only picked up when the racing plot needs some added stakes. Horror moments are few and far between. This might be because of the big quantum elephant in the room, but this reviewer thinks it’s primarily in part because Happy Death Day 2U so desperately wants to be about Tree.
I get it – she’s our final girl. But a Sidney without a Ghostface is a Scream movie that’s just an anti-climactic PSA about getting call waiting. You can’t demean your killer. He’s your bread and butter. What gets the horror fans hooting and hollering, how you make that mad merch money. When Tree graduates in two years, where will Happy Death Day 4U head? Will we watch Tree relive the same birthday again and again, memorizing quantum theory and drinking bubble tea while she convinces her one-day fresh boyfriend they’re for realz in love?
Did I expect 2U to be Tree’s movie again? To be honest – I didn’t. I thought our lead would be Ryan, trying to undo the cogs of his scientific device, with Tree taking a backseat and offering the comedic quips and sassy zingers. But I understand why. Rothe is too charming, too darn funny for this movie to be driven by anyone but her. We get some creative expansions of previous characters – including mega-bitch Danielle (Rachel Matthews) who gets some time to shine – but ultimately, this film exists to double-dip on Tree’s emotional journey of the first flick. Which, I suppose is better than no character development at all.
Ultimately, what you take out of Happy Death Day 2U depends on what you bring into it. Budding and veteran horror fans looking for a slasher follow-up to a quirky comedic standout from 2017 will leave with their feathers a-flurry and their tweets in all caps. But teens dipping their toes into the horror world – either on a Valentine’s day date looking to cuddle a little closer, or friends looking to laugh out loud to some stabby gags – will be filled to the brim with courage for making it all the way through a horror film with nary a scream.