Blumhouse Productions wasted little time greenlighting a follow-up to their 2017 box office sleeper hit, Happy Death Day. Most of the principal parts that made the original work are back. Jessica Roth stars again along with most supporting players returning along with some new faces. In addition, Christopher Landon pulls double-duty this time around, directing and penning the sequel. Landon also mixes in some science-fiction for the sequel to go along with the horror and comedy.
Just one day removed from escaping a time-loop, Tree Gelbman wakes up red with new boyfriend, Carter. But now Carter’s roommate, Ryan, is reliving the same day with another baby-masked killer stalking him. When Tree tries to help, she’s thrown back into another time loop by Ryan’s quantum physics project. There’s just one catch this time. Tree isn’t just repeating the same day; she’s repeating the same day in another dimension.
Happy Death Day 2U’s Tonal Shift Puts Fresh Spin on Concept
Let’s face it, Happy Death Day was pretty light on its horror and slasher roots. Director Christopher Landon and writer Scott Lobdell openly embraced the Groundhog Day-inspired comedy that propelled Happy Death Day to box office success. For the sequel, Landon name-checks Back to the Future with a more science-fiction oriented tone. Oh, the comedy’s still present and there’s a little horror kicking around. But this tonal shift breathes freshness into a movie that’s as guilty of looping many of its gags as its own premise.
The more standard horror elements are seriously toned down, but not entirely abandoned.
For 15 or 20 minutes, Happy Death Day 2U closely follows the original’s beats . It’s in these early scenes where Landon delivers more slickly staged PG-13 jolts. The focus on roommate Ryan offers an early tweak. But this is Tree’s movie so this initial slight of hand quickly gives way to the familiar. And this is where the science fiction tonal shift helps Happy Death Day 2U avoid feeing too repetitive. The more standard horror elements are seriously toned down, but not entirely abandoned. Fans of the Back to the Future movies will likely enjoy the similar plot contrivances in the sequel’s fun climax.
Some Surprising Heartfelt Story-Telling
Though much attention has focused on the sequel’s sci-fi elements, Happy Death Day 2U surprises most with its emotional core. With all the table-setting done in the first movie, Landon has a little more freedom to dig deeper with heartfelt character movements. Tree’s dilemma in perhaps finding a ‘better life’ in a parallel dimension gives the sequel more emotional weight than you’d expect in this type of movie. In fact, the sequel almost borders on being a little sappy, but in a good way. After all, it’s these character moments that keep things sailing in between its comic and suspense-driven sequences.
Jessica Rothe Steals Movie Again
As Tree Gelbman, Jessica Rothe steals the movie again. She brings a manic energy to the role, making it easy to forget that you’ve seen a lot of these scenes just over a year ago. Moreover, Rothe makes those character moments work, preventing them from sliding into hollow sentiment. She demonstrates an even more impressive range in the sequel.
…if anyone else in the cast manages to stand out, it’s Rachel Matthews.
Aside from Rothe, Israel Broussard as boyfriend ‘Carter’, and Phi Vu, playing roommate Ryan, aren’t given much to do. With a little more screen time in the sequel, Vu flashes some decent comedic chops. But if anyone else in the cast manages to stand out, it’s Rachel Matthews. Cast as superficial sorority sister, Danielle, Matthews has a much more expanded role this time. And she’s clearly having a blast with the role, nicely playing off the charismatic Rothe. If another sequel is in the works, I’d be happy to see more of Matthews.
Happy Death 2U A Worthy Sequel
Overall, Happy Death Day 2U adds enough fresh ideas to the mix to avoid feeling like the first movie stuck in its own time-loop. Landon’s idea of drawing upon other genres for sequels certainly helped the movie avoid feeling like a cynical cash-in. Fortunately, Landon also understood the importance of grounding his fantastical premise with some emotion and likeable characters. These factors couples with Rothe’s performance make this a worthy sequel.