Review: ‘Happy Death Day 2U’, A Nutty Sequel That Doesn’t Just Repeat Itself

The best thing about Happy Death Day 2U, the sequel to 2017’s loopy Groundhog Day-esque horror-comedy, is that it barely resembles what came before. Writer/director Christopher Landon (previous writer Scott Lobdell now gets a creator credit only) uses the film to build and expand on the original premise, incorporating other genre elements that take our time-trapped heroine Tree (the excellent Jessica Rothe) to places we don’t expect and beyond. And that’s the fun of it, really; Happy Death Day 2U isn’t really a horror movie, it’s pretty much anything and everything.

Right from the start the film feels different, as the action is propelled initially by Ryan (Phi Vu), who we saw sparingly before as the roommate of Tree’s savior and eventual boyfriend, Carter (Israel Broussard). Ryan is just as clueless as ever, but now with more context. He’s having an odd day; waking up in his car, getting attacked by a dog, barging in on Tree and Carter in his dorm room…oh, and getting murdered by a baby-masked killer. And then it happens; the deja vu. He’s repeating the same encounters, and Tree can see he’s telling the truth about it because she’s been through it. Death has come back, and this time he’s found a new target.

Well, sorta. Happy Death Day 2U isn’t quite so simple. A Weird Science vibe kicks in as we’re introduced to Ryan’s science geek pals (played by Suraj Sharma and Sarah Yarkin), and they take a crucial role in figuring out what’s going on. Suffice it to say, Tree isn’t out of the death loop at all, but nothing is close to being the same as before.

If sci-fi were the only genre Happy Death Day 2U incorporated it would still be a drastic shift in tone, but you’ve also got more dramatic elements as Tree’s previous family issues are thrown a drastic curveball; and it even turns into a heist movie at a later point. But throughout all of this there’s a constant winking at the audience over the silliness of Tree’s predicament, which she also seems to acknowledge on more than one occasion. She comes about as close to breaking the 4th wall as a character could come without actually doing it. In particular a suicide-heavy montage in the middle of the film seems to have put there just to nudge those who are wondering where all the death and carnage is. That’s because this movie is very light on actual murder, trading it in for heavier doses of comedy from the expanded ensemble. Rothe continues to be imminently watchable, and Phi Vu is strong in his increased role. It means less screen time for Broussard, however, although Carter remains a key fixture in Tree becoming a better person than the snob she was when we first met her.

There’s still a masked killer on the loose, but by the time Happy Death Day 2U gets around to it you probably won’t care about that. It’s basically the third or fourth thing on Tree’s to-do list, and if it was ignored the story would proceed along just fine.  Given the premise it would’ve been easy to do a lazy sequel that repeated what worked in the first movie but Happy Death Day 2U successfully accomplishes more than that and has set itself up as a franchise that could last a long time.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5