Happy Death Day 2U takes deja vu to a whole new level


The sequel to the popular Happy Death Day keeps leading lady Jessica Rothe in the driver’s seat for a whole new (and divisive) adventure.

When the first trailers debuted in 2017 for Happy Death Day, it was perceived to be another gimmicky throwback to the ’80s trend of horror-izing every holiday known to man (April Fools Day; Bloody Birthday; Silent Night, Deadly Night, etc.). But, surprisingly, the first film ended up enchanting audiences with its pitch-perfect blend of fun and frights, and the introduction to a new scream queen in leading lady Jessica Rothe.

But can lightning strike twice with a premise that already played like a terrifying version of Groundhog Day? Director and screenwriter Christopher Landon apparently knew the answer, so Happy Death Day 2U goes for broke, creating a film that isn’t being properly sold in the trailers but will find life with fans who continue to enjoy its combination of hijinks and horror.

Tree Gelbman (Rothe) survived the events of Sept. 18, a day she was doomed to live (and die in) over and over. But through a series of events, it’s discovered that Ryan (Phi Vu), the roommate to her boyfriend, Carter (Israel Broussard) created a machine that started the time loop in the first place, trapping Tree in an alternate universe where she’s forced to relive the day over yet again.

Happy Death Day 2U goes for broke with a premise that is too convoluted to explain succinctly, but also isn’t being advertised in the trailers and thus is a massive spoiler. The film’s new direction is immediate, with an opening 15 minutes following Vu’s Ryan, the bleached-blond roommate to Tree’s paramour.

He endures a series of jump scares, perfect to be repeated, and introduces the film’s biggest transition to being a Back to the Future-inspired horror feature. After discovering he’s in a time loop, he enlists the help of Tree, whose story is still only dubiously believed by those who know her.

The first 20 minutes are a necessary, but shaky way of introducing the weird changes Happy Death Day 2U is employing. It’d be easy to think Rothe isn’t going to play a large part because of the emphasis on Ryan, but it’s apparent that he only opens the film to introduce the idea of parallel universes. It’s one of a few moments where the script obviously wasn’t sure how to introduce things and decided to just soldier ahead in the hope that fans can keep up with them.

From Happy Death Day 2U. Image: Universal Pictures

Thankfully, Rothe’s Tree takes point, and once the foundation is laid, Happy Death Day 2U truly picks up. The masked killer with the baby face is still out for blood, but as Tree discovers in the new parallel universe she’s inhabiting, the killer isn’t necessarily looking for her. Watching Tree navigate a new world where certain people are nicer and others are still alive is half the fun, even if the killing is noticeably downgraded.

In order for Tree to close the loop once and for all, she’s required to start killing herself, leading to some incredibly inventive suicides that take the place of murders. It’s fascinating what the movie, which appears far less bloodless than the first (which was already fairly tame) accomplishes, though it’s doubtful horror hounds will be appeased.

Where the first Happy Death Day forced Tree to confront her own flaws as a person while coping with her mother’s death, its sequel is all about regret. How do you make a life decision when it’s staring you in the face, knowing it will affect everything in your life from here on out?

The biggest plot element within the sequel involves Tree coming face-to-face with a world in which her mother’s death might not have happened. The first film was about presenting Rothe’s patented blend of humor and snark, but it’s not just about laughs. Rothe is an incredibly empathetic performer, and watching her grapple with some heavy life choices pulls you even closer to her. A key moment towards the end of the feature will leave you in tears, no doubt because of how beautifully Rothe plays the moment.

Rothe remains the film’s focal point, but it is great watching more of Rachel Matthews as the queen bee, Danielle. She and Israel Broussard’s Carter are presented in different ways this go-round, and their comedy balances out Rothe’s more dramatic turns.

But it will be interesting to see how fans of the first film will respond, particularly if they were there for it being a horror film. Happy Death Day 2U borrows liberally from numerous genres, including the sci-fi world, and it’s a completely different experience than in 2017. It will alienate fans, particularly because the trailers are selling a plot that doesn’t exist. (Seriously, the trailers for this are incredibly misleading.)

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Regardless of the changes, I’m eager to see where the next installment goes. And, boy, does this movie sell us another sequel. So long as it’s got Jessica Rothe and a story that blends family drama with a little adrenaline, I’ll follow this franchise anywhere.