The first Happy Death Day was a slasher-tinged riff on Groundhog Day, the 1993 classic in which Bill Murray lives the same day over and over until he learns to be less of a dick. Like that movie, Happy Death Day never explained what caused the time loop in which Tree (Jessica Rothe) woke up every morning hungover in a stranger’s dorm room and was murdered every night by a killer in a baby mask. Was an omnipotent being trying to teach Tree a lesson? Did someone put a curse on her, like in the infamous second draft of Groundhog Day’s script? The movie provided no answers and few concrete hints.
As in the movie to which Happy Death Day owes its existence, the cause of the anomaly was less important than the journey, and the lessons learned along the way. Happy Death Day 2U throws that out the window and explains everything.
Luckily, though, it doesn’t feel like they scrambled to come up with some cockamamey explanation upon learning they’d get to do a sequel. Director Christopher B. Landon even told Insider back in 2017 that he already knew what was causing the time loop, long before a sequel was a sure thing. “It’s in my back pocket…if I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to make a sequel, the answer to that question is the premise of my sequel,” he said.
I won’t spoil what it is, but it doesn’t take long into HDD2U until we find out. And as Landon stated in the same interview, the time loop’s cause is heavily hinted at in the original–although it’s only obvious in retrospect.
So in return for taking out the mystery, what do we get in Happy Death Day 2U? The sequel is a much more potent blend of genres, mixing elements of slashers, comedy, and sci-fi, all with a tongue-in-cheek wit that tells the audience the movie knows exactly what it is. It expands on the cast of characters, introducing some new ones while adding new dimensions to the old ones–literally, the plot this time around involves parallel universes, as anyone who’s seen the trailers can surmise.
The movie shifts gears several times, from the opening, in which Carter’s (Israel Broussard) hapless roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) finds himself stuck in a death loop of his own, to the out of place narrative cul-de-sac of a comedic heist, to Tree’s trip to an alternate universe in which several key parts of her life are different. HDD2U spends a lopsided amount of time on that, and Tree’s conundrum ultimately makes up the majority of the film’s runtime, which winds up being disappointing after the movie’s efforts to flesh out its other characters early on.
Ryan–the douchebag roommate who started every morning of Tree’s original loop by referring to her as “fine vagine”–turns out to be an intriguing protagonist in his own right, before the focus shifts entirely back to Tree. And the movie introduces several other students (Sarah Yarkin and Suraj Sharma), as well as the ’80s movie-style villainous Dean Bronson (Steve Zissis), all of whom should have been fleshed out more.
Part of the reason they’re not may be that Jessica Rothe is so magnetic as protagonist Tree. The ranges of frustration, determination, joy, despair, and fatigue that she displays throughout both movies are justification enough for the series to keep going past number two. The rest of the characters are destined to just be bit players with a protagonist this likable, so it’s understandable why the sequel leans into that and keeps the focus mostly on her. The other standout this time around is Rachel Matthews’ alpha boss sorority sister Danielle, who winds up playing a fairly different version of the character in Tree’s alternate universe.
Ultimately, Happy Death Day 2U works despite the incongruity of its various parts. Jumping between horror, comedy, and sci-fi tones is a difficult balancing act, and HDD2U pulls it off, despite a few stumbles here and there. When it wants to be funny, it definitely is, while there are also legitimate scares that will have some viewers jumping out of their seats. And the sci-fi elements lead to an intriguing–while still hilarious–conclusion that I genuinely hope gets picked up in another Happy Death Day sequel.
The original Happy Death Day easily stands on its own as a complete, self-contained movie. Like Groundhog Day, it didn’t need to be explained. But if you’re going to expand on a movie like Happy Death Day, this is the way to do it.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Jessica Rothe is an incredibly likable protagonist||Could have spent more time with side characters|
|Expands on the original without detracting from it||A couple of narrative cul-de-sacs, including an out of place heist section|
|Has a lot of fun with the premise|
|Impressively blends slasher, comedy, and sci-fi|