DIR/WRI: Christopher Landon • PRO: Jason Blum • DOP: Toby Oliver • ED: Ben Baudhuin • DES: Bill Boes • MUS: Bear McCreary • CAST: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma
Wizzard truly missed a trick in 1973 when they didn’t write a song about how they wish it could be birthday everyday. What with the recent spate of Groundhog Day-inspired birthday media (well, specifically this and the Netflix series Russian Doll), Roy Wood et al. would, forty six years after the song’s release, now be rolling in dough. Live and learn.
Having survived the events of Happy Death Day (2017) in which Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) had to relive the day of her death time and time again in order to unmask and defeat her killer, Tree realises that she has unfinished business when she is thrown right back into that same time loop. However, in Happy Death Day 2U she also has to contend with interdimensional travel and a really lousy Dean. Tree finds herself in an alternative universe where she has a slightly different life: the old gang are here, including her new boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard) and roommate Lori (Ruby Modine), but her relationships with them all are not quite the same. With help from a group of science students, Tree must both avoid murder at the hands of a new killer and figure out a way home. Yes, director Christopher Landon has really given himself a lot to contend with here, particularly considering how other horror franchises take about four instalments before their characters even venture out into space. It can be a little lopsided at times, with the whodunnit aspect getting short-changed in favour of the science fiction arc. However, in light of how much is thrown at the wall in Happy Death Day 2U, a surprising amount sticks.
There’s also plenty that doesn’t quite land of course: early on it appears that this sequel might be focused on a new, somewhat unexpected protagonist – specifically Ryan (Phi Vu), Carter’s Asian roommate who was a bit part in the original 2017 instalment – but very quickly things are reshuffled to ensure it’s all about Tree once again. While it’s far from being the worst of possible outcomes, (particularly because Tree is a compelling character) it would have been interesting to see a slasher flick about someone other than a white girl, particularly considering the way it’s teased here. Then again, perhaps the HDD franchise is one that will have the longevity to expand on its representation (early box office numbers aren’t entirely promising but if these films have taught me one thing, it’s that anything is possible. Also that baby masks are scary). Happy Death Day 2U also can’t figure out how to get its characters out of a dilemma without having a bunch of nerds hilariously explain science to a clueless blonde girl. And finally, there is a somewhat questionable montage regarding Tree figuring out ways to commit suicide in order to re-spawn the following morning. While everyone involved is aware that these deaths aren’t permanent, perhaps making light of suicide is not the best of looks.
It’s likely that your enjoyment of the second instalment will depend on what you made of the first one. If you liked that, this will probably keep you well entertained. If you didn’t enjoy the first, it’s unlikely this is going to change your mind. What’s particularly satisfying is seeing how successfully Tree has become a heroine worth championing, thanks in large part to Rothe’s excellent performance, which carefully balances the comic and pathos required. While somewhat muddled and too busy at times, Happy Death Day 2U should be given its due for being a clever sequel and more or less as fun – and perhaps more surprising, having as much of an emotional arc – as the original.