Take a moment and think of every great movie sequel you have ever seen. Now that you are done listing all the subpar sequels, how many are left on the list that are excellent? The craft of constructing a sequel is a difficult undertaking, especially if the first film is something special.
Happy Death Day was a surprise upon its release in 2017; a film that took the concept of the 1993 comedy Groundhog Day and turned it into a clever and unique horror film that delivered some really fun surprises. The turnaround for the sequel happened rather quickly, which is always a little concerning, but Happy Death Day 2U takes a route less traveled for movie sequels by twisting the narrative, including the genre, into something completely different.
Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) lived the same day over and over, dying at the hands of a masked killer every day until she was able to solve her own murder. With the help of her boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard), Tree thought she had escaped the time loop and could move on with her life. But things take a drastic reversal as a science experiment, conducted by Carter’s roommate Ryan (Phi Vu), creates another time jump that brings Tree back face-to-face with her baby-faced masked killer. But something’s changed, things are different this time.
Christopher Landon directed Happy Death Day with a clear understanding of tone for a horror film that offered a few frights, a creepy looking slasher, a charming hero, and some lighthearted humor. It felt like a PG-13 horror film from the 90’s mixed with the science fiction appeal of the 80’s. So, it’s not surprising that Mr. Landon brings the successful qualities back in different doses and combinations while making one interesting and tricky turn in the structure.
The narrative, which leaned strongly in the horror genre with only a sprinkling of sci-fi for the first film, flips into a straight forward science fiction film with a spattering of horror here and there. It’s a bold move that is somehow surprisingly pulled off. Utilizing a science fiction storytelling theme that feels reminiscent of The Outer Limits, Happy Death Day 2U refreshingly twists and morphs into a different film. While it still struggles with some shoddy dialog and unusual side character performances, like a wacky college professor who bumbles into the excitement at the worst time, the film still merges its quality elements in an enjoyable way.
A big part of why this film works so well is the exceptional screen appeal of Jessica Rothe, who holds the film together with her tenacity and charisma. Ms. Rothe’s performance is convincing and entertaining throughout; whether she is wielding an axe or waking up with her hair frizzed from electricity, the actor entirely owns it.
Happy Death Day 2U works really well up to a point that it becomes slightly unhinged with its time looping dilemma and wanting to push for expanding its universe beyond the primary character’s life, but it doesn’t derail the fun that this movie is clearly trying to produce. Rarely do sequels work as well as it does with Happy Death Day 2U. Blumhouse Productions continues to surprise with their brand of genre films.
Film Score: 3.5/5