October 2017’s Happy Death Day fell into the Blumhouse business model of micro-budget horror movies released at traditionally profitable times of the year. It turned out to be a surprisingly clever horror-comedy with a strong central performance by Jessica Rothe, and a solid script and direction. Less than a year and a half later, a sequel, Happy Death Day 2U is released. It’s a rush job that remarkably doesn’t feel like one, and escapes every trap of the cash-grab rehash sequel, and somehow manages to improve upon the original in several meaningful ways.
Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) explains to her boyfriend’s roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) how she was recently involved in a time-loop scenario where she kept dying at the end of the day and had to unmask her killer before it was too late because the same thing is starting to happen to him. However, this is mostly his own fault, because Ryan and his nerdy friends have basically invented a time machine which puts the friends back in a…slightly different time loop. What follows is a sci-fi laced comedy horror film with suicide montages and time travel and lots of math, and it’s more fun than you could possibly imagine.
After seeing the trailer for this sequel, I was worried it would be a rehash of the original and do the same thing over again in slightly different ways. I was relieved to find this wasn’t the case. Sequels (particularly horror sequels) are notorious for wiping the slate clean and ignoring character growth and any kind of nuance established in the previous film. This sequel builds on the world created in the first one, and actually holds its characters accountable for the person they became after the credits rolled. Tree realizes in the first movie that she’s kind of a terrible person, and must learn how to improve her life, and luckily we’re not starting from scratch this time.
Jessica Rothe is a star. This is a more demanding script than the first, and she’s up to the task and full of charm and talent. The most surprising thing about Happy Death Day 2U is the surprising emotional heft in its story. There are a few scenes that get to borderline tearjerker territory. It’s surprising enough that this movie is doing it, but even more that it’s selling it. We have these big, dramatic moments, and they all work. Rothe’s surprisingly sensitive performance is to thank.
Director Christopher Landon is now also the screenwriter, and if anything, he writes a better script than Scott Lobdell wrote for the last one. He gives secondary characters from the first film more to do and expands his central characters, and everyone’s journey is more interesting this time around. This one takes a hard left into weird, and it pays off. The suits at Blumhouse gave the creative team of this movie permission to just make this more bizarre and gleefully weird, and you’ll be happy they did.
I could see a criticism of this saying that it’s not really a horror movie anymore, but, I would say it’s about as scary as the first movie, which is to say not very much at all. The horror movie aspect of the first movie isn’t really what drew me to it anyway. The witty and tight screenplay is the selling point in the case of both movies. There is still plenty of dramatic tension, but it does become less about the killer in the baby mask. If the story did not take these turns, however, we wouldn’t have this fantastic setup for a third movie. And it’s a third part I hope they get to make, with this exact cast and creative team. This is a sequel that’s deeper, zippier, funnier and more surprising and entertaining. Happy Death Day 2U is a total blast.