Movie Review: “Happy Death Day 2U” – Time Warp Again

Written by Jeremiah Greville March 03, 2019

It feels like I just saw Happy Death Day in theatres a moment ago, and now the series is back on the big screen. That’s fitting, considering the subject matter. Unlike pretty much every other reviewer in hindsight, I wasn’t a huge fan of the original. It drowned a novel premise in old-fashioned and out-of-date moral judgments and wasn’t exciting enough to make up for it. The film wasn’t bad, just thoroughly average. Despite the sequel not quite rising to the level of the first, I actually enjoyed it a lot more. They ditched the screenwriter of the original and doubled down on the goofy fun. But then the third act happened, and I was suddenly experiencing deja vu…

Happy Death Day 2U stars Jessica Rothe as Tree. Yes, her character is still named Tree. That’s a name. I hate it. Moving on. Following the events of 2017’s Happy Death Day, Tree must once again relive her birthday over and over, dying at the end of each day only to wake up back where she started until she solves her own murder. Just like the first. However, this time around the details have changed, and she’s forced to find new answers to old problems. Happy Death Day 2U also stars Israel Broussard as her love interest, Carter; Phi Vu as Carter’s nerdy friend, Ryan; and Rachel Matthews as Tree’s best friend, Danielle. It’s written and directed this time around by Christopher Landon.

“You’re going to die. Again. And again. And again.”

Despite that somewhat complicated summary, the set up to the first Happy Death Day was fairly simple: keep dying and reliving the same day until you solve your own murder. Hi-jinks ensue. Happy Death Day 2U is much more complicated because it introduces science fiction elements and multiple universes to the narrative. Genre-savvy film-goers won’t have any issues keeping track, but casual slasher-fans of the first might have a hard time. This film is far less horror-focused than the original. There are barely any jump scares or efforts made to build the horror tension. In fact, I honestly don’t think it belongs in the horror category at all. That doesn’t mean it’s bad—it’s just something to keep in mind going in.

Happy Death Day 2U is much more of a science fiction comedy—almost a spoof of the first film, which itself was a deconstruction of slasher films. But you will need to see the first to get the most out of the sequel. The plot picks up right after the ending of the original and barrels along from the opening scene. The breakneck speed of the first act of Happy Death Day 2U is commendable and impressive, but relies entirely on the audience already being familiar with the first film. There’s very little set-up of the ‘day’ this time around, since the events were already established in the last movie. Yes, you’ll understand most of what’s going on if you haven’t seen the original, but you’re guaranteed to enjoy this one less if that’s the case.

“So it’s just about money?”

Now, with all that being said—how is the film? Honestly, not bad. It’s still a hodgepodge of genres with each element never rising above just okay, but it’s never terrible. The horror scenes aren’t that scary, the science fiction stuff is there enough to get the plot moving forward, and the humour elevates several scenes but never reaches side-splittingly funny. Most of it works well enough to enjoy, but the real trick here is how these elements work together to create something interesting. It’s the same gag as the original, though. Without the strong juxtaposition of comedy and horror (with sci-fi being a weaker substitution), the trick is less impressive.

The one element that keeps the whole thing from feeling like a pointless repeat is Jessica Rothe. She was the best thing about the first film and it’s the same story this time around. She’s terrific, bouncing from each ridiculous moment or cheesy montage (there are SEVERAL) with genuine charm and skill. Writer-director Christopher Landon doesn’t stop with her, however—side characters from the first are given several moments to shine as well. Phi Vu carries the first couple of scenes with his return as Ryan in a nicely-done audience fake-out, and Rachel Matthews showcases some great comedic and slapstick shops in some achingly-ridiculous scenes as Danielle. It’s a shame that Israel Broussard still plays a blank nice-guy cipher, but it seems more a consequence of the structure of the film than a lack of talent on his part.

“Your hand smells like cheese.”

Landon avoids the mistakes of Scott Lobdell’s script from the first one and spends time focusing on his cast above all else. If anything, Happy Death Day 2U feels like a love letter to Happy Death Day. It’s nice to see Landon so affectionate toward his characters, but it’s a shame that that affection didn’t come with more consideration. The over-long third act slows the entire thing to a halt and is excruciatingly melodramatic for what came before it. The drama is earned, but not to the extent shown. It’s boring, embarrassing, and undermines the rest of the film. If it weren’t for the third act drama, Happy Death Day 2U would be an absolute joy. But as it stands right now, it’s two-thirds of a pretty decent film, and that’s only if you saw (and enjoyed) the first.

Happy Death Day 2U is okay. If you really liked the first, then you’re definitely in the target audience and should feel fine seeing the sequel. If you didn’t dig the first, or didn’t see it, then you’re probably best skipping this one. At the end of the day, it’s a time-loop story featuring a killer in a baby mask, and that’s never going to be for everyone. Also, as a side note, what kind of college has a creepy baby as their school mascot? Did they lose a bet to a better university? Seriously, the baby mascot thing is weirder to me than the actual time-loop. The Bayfield University Babies. That’s their official team name in this film. That’s…nuts. I still can’t really accept it, and the more I think about it, the more upset I get. Babies…huh.

The world is a strange place.

My Rating: 6/10

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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