February 14th is a day known for love, romance and a giant baby piercing people in their hearts. Cupid isn’t shooting arrows, but instead this Valentine’s Day, Blumhouse and Universal have teamed up to produce Happy Death Day 2U, a sequel to the 2017 commercially successful dark comedy-horror, Happy Death Day. Christopher Landon returns as the director and sole writer with characters created by Scott Lobdell, and the film sees the return of actors Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, and Phi Vu.
When I first saw the trailer for this film, I was somewhat worried because the first one ended in a way that a sequel would seem hard to execute. Luckily, Christopher London had a vision that worked out as a soft-reboot and genre change for the franchise. For those that have not seen the first Happy Death Day, it’s a fun PG-13 horror-comedy that I would recommend checking out before seeing this sequel.
After the events of the first film, Tree Geldman (Jessica Rothe) finds herself stuck in the time loop on her birthday. One of the biggest questions after the first film was why Tree was in a time loop in the first place. Happy Death Day 2U does a decent job trying to explain it but I think it could’ve done a better job at incorporating events from the first film in its explanation. Outside of that, there are tons of callbacks from the first film. Some work and some were not as impressive, and there are some scenes that may have been cut, lifted and pasted from the first movie as well. Similar to the first film, the sequel starts off as a slasher and then after the first death, it gets far away from it.
The acting in the film and its characters are its biggest strengths. Jessica Rothe is criminally underrated and her performance as Tree Geldman is just as good as it was in the first film. In a film that is completely unrealistic Tree brings a sense of realism that a normal person would have if they were stuck in a time loop that they once broke. Her relationship with Carter (Israel Broussard) has a nice wrinkle to it, which gives the film a sense of freshness. Carter is still a character who works as the film’s moral compass when Tree reverts to her old ways. Even the returning side characters played bigger roles in the overall story of the film. Danielle (Rachelle Matthews) was impressionable in the first film and in this one she adds another layer to her relationship with Tree. If there’s a third film then I am looking forward to seeing where her character goes. Lori (Ruby Modine) plays a different role than the previous film, which also creates a more rounded character. New characters like Dre (Sarah Yarkin) and Samar (Suraj Sharma) were a welcome addition but they could’ve been used more effectively. They’re both comedy characters and when they’re paired with Danielle there’s a hijink scene that could’ve been left on the cutting room floor.
Another under utilized character is Ryan (Phi Vu), based on the trailer, it seems like he would’ve had a bigger role in the film. Before Tree’s first death, the film focuses on Ryan and it makes the movie feel fresh and not derivative of the first Happy Death Day. As Ryan gets pushed into the background, the more messy the film becomes. There’s a complete genre shift as the movie progresses which is what I loved about this film, yet at the same time, when it harps back to the first film it’s very hit or miss. Scott Lobdell, creator of the characters in the first film, helped write the first movie and the sequel is missing his touch. Christopher Landon did a fine job at making this movie mean something. The emotional scenes with Tree are phenomenal and they hit a nerve for a sequel to a horror-comedy. Jessica Rothe really deserves an Oscar nomination and that’s how great she’s been in these films. Where Happy Death Day 2U flounders is when it completely ditches the horror-mystery elements and goes full sci-fi, romance and comedy because of the jerk in the tonal shift.
The technical aspects are not on par with the first film when it comes to editing. The first film was edited by Gregory Plotkin and this one was edited by Ben Baudhuin. Baudhuin’s attention to detail was a major step down when it came to the reaction shots and it was noticeable throughout the film. Even with these flaws, this was a serviceable sequel to the first film. I admire how they took chances that a lot of sequels wouldn’t think of taking. Some of those chances paid off and others did not, but with the characters created within this universe and now multi-verse I think going forward Happy Death Day will be the cornerstone franchise for Blumhouse. A third film has not been greenlit as of writing this review, but Tree and her friends deserve one more outing on the big screen. Jessica Rothe keeps churning out performances like this, then it won’t be long before the world takes notice. After the events of this film (mid-credit scene) I would not be surprised if Danielle (Rachel Matthews) gets a spin-off Netflix (re: streaming service) series. Happy Death Day 2U is an ambitious sequel that does some things right, a few things wrong, but overall, it made a time loop worth seeing again.
[All Mames Wey]
Happy Death Day 2U is in theaters February 13, 2019.