Review: Happy Death Day 2U

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Director: Christopher Landon

Writers: Christopher Landon, Scott Lobdell (characters)

Composer: Bear McCreary

Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Ruby Modine

Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery

Happy Death Day 2U is a sneaky little sequel that has crept up and surprised everyone. Though the cynics amongst us may have seen it coming, given the first film’s success at the box office (approximately $5 million to make, earning back over $125 million worldwide) and Hollywood’s penchant to keep cashing in with subsequent movies. However, for a film that originally provided a horror spoof of Groundhog Day, how exactly does one revisit the premise? Wouldn’t it simply double-down on the repetitiveness? While the trailer comes across as one big joke, is it possible that there’s legitimately more to this story that is still to be explored? Can a sequel of this storyline be pulled off?

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: This movie is classified as a horror. The story revolves around a character being stuck in a time loop, so that no matter her actions, she is resurrected and is forced to relive the day again. The main character is killed multiple times, mostly through suicide which involves electrocution, car crashes, falls from heights, jumping into a wood chipper. There is also a serial killer on the loose, so characters are stabbed or shot. Little blood is seen, and the scene usually cuts to the beginning of the day, never lingering on the death.

Language/Crude Humor: Several f-bombs are dropped, along with the s-word and minor swears such as a** and d*ck. A character wears a t-shirt with “FML”. Religious related swears are used (d*mn, h*ll) and God’s name is used in vain. There is an instance where the middle finger is raised. Racial slurs–the main character is constantly called a crazy white girl.

Drug/Alcohol References: In the first movie, it is said that the main character had a lot to drink the night before, so therefore she is constantly waking up with a hangover. This sequel revisits the same day, though there is little mention of alcohol, only suggestion.

Sexual Content: A married man talks about having an affair. Unmarried characters kiss and consider sex. A man is seen wearing nothing but a towel. A woman walks around in her underwear to comedic effect.

Spiritual Content: None.

Other Negative Content: Suicide is treated light-heartedly. Characters are manipulated in order to steal objects. Authority figures are disobeyed. In an after-credits scene, a character is treated poorly, where their punishment is not justified. There is a scene where someone acts being blind in order to gain sympathy and manipulate another.

Positive Content: There is a lot of discussion about choosing one’s fate. Ultimately the main character makes selfless decisions, based on being authentic to one’s self and being content with the circumstances that life brings.

Review

Happy Death Day 2U is an enjoyable mess of a movie. The first film was an easily digestible light-hearted horror, with its greatest strength being its twisted fun-loving spirit. The sequel maintains this essence, however, this venture focuses even more on the comedy, to the extent that a lot of the thrills have been sidelined in favor of snappy banter and moral dilemmas.

Kicking off right where the first film concluded, the story continues to follow Tree while also deepening the supporting cast’s character development. In sequels, it’s common to see the protagonist’s journey reset. The writers need to be applauded for not making this mistake; it’s clear that Tree has grown as a person since her first outing, and Happy Death Day 2U continues to build on her character, not automatically dismissing what she has already learned.

However this inadvertently also contributes to one of the main problems with the film–its lack of high stakes. The first movie also had issues in this department. Yet to discuss how the movie attempts to address its lack of tension, one needs to first talk about the other big problem with Happy Death Day 2U–its change of genre.

In the first film, the mystery was more about unmasking the killer, rather than the supernatural Groundhog Day-esque events. Since that has now been answered, it’s therefore natural that this time around the story finally uncovers the reason behind the continual looping and time travel. The movie is completely self-aware of this shift in focus–Carter literally compares Tree’s new situation to the plot of Back To The Future II. It’s no longer just Groundhog Day.

This in itself isn’t an issue, as it’s an understandable progression of the story (though admittedly by unveiling the reason for the time loop, it does undercut the mystery of the first film). The real problem is that it simply takes a while to shift gears from being a horror film to a sci-fi. It’s a clunky transition, with the first act–firmly paying homage to the slasher sub-genre–feeling like a mini-movie in itself, completely disjointed from the darkly comedic second act filled with scientific exploration.

During this time, the killer takes a backseat to sci-fi shenanigans, only to reappear in the third act as if as an afterthought. Indeed, most of the deaths in this film are suicides, with Tree using her invincibility more as a training montage similar to what is seen in Edge of Tomorrow.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Jessica Rothe once again nails her role and carries the entire story on her more-than-capable shoulders. With the sci-fi genre comes new and intriguing dilemmas that Tree must face, and it’s a pleasure to watch Jessica Rothe explore her character even further. Yet as meaty as the plot becomes, even the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful scenes do begin to feel overdone. The pace slows, feeling completely uneven in tone compared to the tense first act.

Returning to the issue of the lack of high stakes, it’s even more problematic in Happy Death Day 2U. In the original film, it was difficult to feel scared for Tree when one knows she is essentially invincible. To combat this, writer Scott Lobdell put a limit on her abilities. While Tree’s personality and personal development have thankfully not been reset in the sequel, annoyingly it seems her limitations have been conveniently extended.

Yet the stakes are even lower once again this time around. Tree already has a good idea of who is under the mask. She has developed some fighting skills. She already knows the movements of everyone during the day. The movie throws new things into the mix, though it doesn’t successfully throw Tree off her stride.

It’s as though the writers knew that creating suspense in this story would be a foregone conclusion, and to rectify this problem, instead of adding more rules, they chose to remove the killer from most of the film’s runtime. Essentially, the stakes are no longer dictated by the villain, rather they are present within the emotionally wrought choices that Tree must make. Shifting the stakes does solve the problem, at least partially. The film still never reaches the threshold of the audience believing that the characters are ever in any real danger.

To not completely alienate the sequel from the first film in terms of its vibe, a lot of the humor is still present. If anything, it’s ramped up even more. Happy Death Day 2U is essentially a comedic sci-fi with some thrilling scenes. Due to this, once again this film will suit people who aren’t huge fans of the horror genre but still like to be thrilled every now and then. Lighter than the first, Happy Death Day 2U does play more like a twisted sci-fi comedy, once it does get past the first act. However, since it is set in a college, there are some mature themes regarding sexual relationships, making it unsuitable for tweens that want to explore scarier films.

However, none of the action will make sense for those who haven’t seen the first film. These movies will work best when seen back to back. This is because little explanation is given in the sequel–the killer’s movements and the layout of the day are assumed knowledge. Many details covered in the first film are simply glossed over in the second.

Yet despite its many flaws, Happy Death Day 2U still manages to be a highly entertaining outing. Many works have appropriated the concepts found in Groundhog Day, though this film must be commended for being daring enough to revisit such a plot and still find ways to keep it fresh. In order to properly further the story, risks were taken, with the switching of genres from horror, to sci-fi, to emotional drama, then back again. Yes, it’s clunky. No, it’s not perfect. Yet one cannot help but admire its effort for trying, and for instinctively knowing the necessary direction it must take in order to stay alive, as messy as that journey becomes.

But it doesn’t end there. Be sure to stay in the theatre for a rather lengthy mid-credits sequence. Admittedly, it’s not terribly enthusing, though it does beg the question as to what defines a Happy Death Day film? Is it the baby-faced killer? Or is it more to do with time loops and other associated issues? Both? In which case, if these films were to become a trilogy, then it’s clear that another shift in genre will need to take place, though this raises the question as to what elements will still be carried forward. Either way, it will certainly be interesting to observe how exactly this story continues. It may well become one of the riskiest narratives in recent times, which is always welcome in a cinematic landscape of predictable sequels.

Juliana Purnell

After obtaining a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts, Juliana Purnell has enjoyed a successful acting career, working within theme parks, businesses, and on film sets. She has also taken on crew roles, both in film and theatrical productions. When Juliana isn't working, she enjoys watching movies of all genres at the cinema, writing, and playing with Samson, her pomeranian.

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