Director: Christopher Landon
Screenplay: Christopher Landon
Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Suraj Sharma, Steve Zissis
Runtime: 100 Minutes
The original Happy Death Day was a pretty fun slasher film with a Groundhog Day twist that wasn’t exactly revolutionary but did very well with the components of the narrative and production to keep it lively and entertaining.
But the best thing about it was that it was simple. It had a pretty definitive beginning and end, and didn’t feel the need delve into more convoluted plot elements or narrative contrivances to convey its point, instead using its solid grounding as a slasher film to inform its generic details, such as building up the ditsy blonde heroine Tree (Jessica Rothe) with a sense of agency to track down her killer and escape the time loop.
Happy Death Day 2U, on the other hand, opts to revisit the narrative immediately after the events of the first film, and decides that the best thing to do to stretch the surprisingly profitable original into a franchise is to explore the details of why Tree ended up in the time loop in the first place – and that pretty much everything that’s gone sideways here.
Time loop storylines such as this mostly work because it’s a clever narrative device that can be used to inform a very strong and relatable story arc; watch an otherwise unlikable or self-absorbed character become likeable and selfless by being forced to change because of their circumstances, and embracing and taking in the unknown aspects of the wider world around them. Stories like Groundhog Day (or more recently Netflix’s excellent series Russian Doll) don’t feel the need to explore the how’s and why’s of why this is happening to them, because it ultimately doesn’t matter because what’s more important is the emotional journey that the central character is set on.
But here, by turning it from a narrative device into just another plot element concerning the college’s science students experimenting in temporal displacement causing the events in the first place – and everything that tumbles out of that including others getting pulled into the same loop and multiverse theory – it essentially robs the essence of the original narrative by putting it down to an exterior force and putting plot and lore building first.
The explanation to which is daft anyway, but marks the film’s significant genre and tonal shift away from a slasher film into a dark science fiction comedy. That’s not necessarily a bad approach, but it doesn’t really find much more identity because of that and lends itself to some exhausting comedy sequences and montages. Although, the returning crew at least do a decent job at maintaining the same aesthetic.
When the plot really does kick in, it becomes apparent at about the halfway mark that the beats and structure that its going to be repeating don’t really leave much leeway for further creativity beyond the inherent novelty in the premise of having to redo the first film again but with slight alterations to the timeline. There are at least one or two story beats that it hits really well regarding Tree’s mother returned to life, even with the whole thing undermining itself.
Even though it's only slightly longer than the first film, it certainly feels longer with a heavy amount of baggage as it rushes through major plot developments and spends too long re-treading others. The entire plot strand involving the new killer in a mask takes a backseat for incredibly long stretches and is often forgotten about entirely in service of filling out the roster with a new cast of unfortunately thinly written if decently played supporting characters.
And yet, somewhere in the mix with all of this, the film kind of finds its feet as a moderately enjoyable romp, and something of a roast of its own predecessor in vein to something like Gremlins 2, where the shakeups they take only accentuate how absurd the entire concept was in the first place. How much can you truly then judge something if it isn’t even taking itself all that seriously?
The other big endorsement for is returning lead Jessica Rothe, who is somehow even more charismatic and enjoyable to watch here than she was in the first. Even in the face of the messiness that surrounds here, every minute she is allowed she gleefully exploits to the best of her efforts and as such elevates so much of it into something entirely more watchable, with her characters newfound confidence kicking into gear from the off.
Happy Death Day 2U isn’t bad, it’s entertaining in an undemanding manner and has a great central performance from a very talented actress. It doesn’t do itself or its predecessor any favours by the mere fact that it was made, but it’s goofy and cheeky in some measure and able to justify its existence to some measurable extent.