As a lifelong devotee of the slasher subgenre, Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day was one of my favorite horror films of 2017, as its infectious charms and clever approach to mixing up the formula we’ve come to expect engrained itself deeply into my genre-loving soul. When a sequel was announced, I was thrilled and excited—naturally—but part of me wondered if the follow-up would succumb to sequelitis and give us fans just more of the same, especially considering how much this concept of looping time was a part of Happy Death Day’s story. But leave it to writer/director Christopher Landon to come up with a brilliant approach to figuring out how you give fans more of what they loved about the original, but still drastically change things up with Happy Death Day 2U, making it one of the most innovative and surprising sequels to come out in years.
This is no hyperbole, either, folks—based on the trailers, there was no possible way for me to suspect what Landon and his amazing cast had in store for us with the sequel, but I think that’s what I loved the most about it. Happy Death Day 2U takes some major swings in terms of subverting expectations, and I respect the hell out of Landon for not being satisfied by just resting on his storytelling laurels. But beyond all that, HDD2U also further intensified my belief that not only is Tree Gelbman one of the best characters we’ve seen in horror in some time, but Jessica Rothe is, without a doubt, one of the finest young actresses working today as well.
Here’s the thing: to properly talk about what makes Happy Death Day 2U so much fun, I have to dig into one major aspect of the film that has not been revealed in any of the trailers, so while I would never, ever put spoilers into any of my reviews, I do feel that it is worth mentioning that if you want to go into HDD2U without knowing just what makes it so different, then it might be wise to come back to this review after you’ve seen the movie. Or if you’re okay with knowing just how on Earth the time loop that Tree was stuck in throughout the first Happy Death Day came to be, then feel free to carry on (it’s not really a spoiler, but it is a pretty cool reveal that I very much did not expect).
Happy Death Day 2U begins as we follow Ryan (Phi Vu), the slightly obnoxious roommate who continuously barged in on Carter (Israel Broussard) and Tree during the beginning of the time loop in the first film, as he makes his way throughout his day (which just happens to be the day after the events of HDD OG). We learn that he’s been working on an ambitious device affectionally referred to as Sissy for the science department with the help of a few other students (played by Suraj Sharma and Sarah Bennani) that not only emits powerful surges of energy, but also happens to be causing sporadic brownouts on campus to boot (remember when they randomly lose power in the first Happy Death Day? That’s all Sissy!). But when the project gets taken away by Dean Bronson (Steve Zissis), Ryan thinks things can’t get any worse—until someone kills him. And as he dies, he suddenly wakes up again and starts his whole day over.
And from there, things get even crazier once another emission from Sissy sends poor Tree back into her original time loop, but in this case, it’s taken everything that she’s expecting from that fateful day in some very, very different directions. Some of these changes are bad, but some are good and ultimately life-altering, forcing Tree to decide whether or not she’s ready to move forward towards her future or if she’d rather just continue focusing on things from her past.
I am purposefully being vague in some of the plot developments in Happy Death Day 2U because there are some very surprising twists and turns that Landon has crafted into his narrative, and I want to try and preserve those as much as I can for everyone. That being said, while Rothe gets more opportunities to show off her comedic chops in this sequel, her character Tree also has an emotionally-driven journey to go on in HDD2U, showcasing the actress’ great range for being able to handle the film’s comedic beats just as well as she takes on some of the gut punch moments for Tree, as she comes to terms with some of the things that have been hanging over her for years now.
Also, what’s great about exploring the concept of multiverses in Happy Death Day 2U is that Landon and company get a chance to revisit these characters from the first film in totally new ways, even bringing back Ruby Modine as Lori, the original killer in HDD, with a totally new approach to her character, or Tree’s scummy professor, Gregory (Charles Aitken), whose infidelities are still a thing, but no longer involve our heroine (there are a few other mix-ups too, but I think I’d rather let you guys be surprised by those). In some ways, it almost makes the Happy Death Day franchise akin to the Choose Your Own Adventure series, as it allows Landon, his cast, and audiences the opportunity to explore a lot of “what if” scenarios that you generally don’t get to do with other genre series, and I really appreciated that.
For those looking for more of a slasher-centric mystery like we had in the original Happy Death Day, your mileage might vary with the sequel, but as someone who genuinely adores these characters and this universe (or "universes" might be more appropriate terminology now, considering where the sequel goes), I was thrilled that this story goes in a very different direction than I was expecting, all while never losing sight of what made the first film so great in the first place. I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that you could successfully blend together slasher tropes with time travel and multiverses (sorry, Detention), but Happy Death Day 2U proves that when you put your mind to it, truly anything is possible.
Also, it’s worth noting that there is a stinger in the end credits that fans should stick around for that ultimately sets up where the third (and most likely final) installment in the Happy Death Day series is headed, and it is freaking awesome.
Movie Score: 4/5