Happy Death Day, for me, was a movie that was crushed under expectations. What I wanted was a bloody slasher film that took Groundhog Day and turned it into an excuse for increasingly ridiculous death sequences. What I got was a PG-13 horror film short on actual scares, but full of enough charm to draw audiences to it. Looking back on it, the film was better than I gave it credit for but not as good as it could have been.
That’s why I was really excited that a sequel was coming. A second movie could give me the kills and death I was hoping for from the first one even if it was still PG-13. I went in hoping for a fun bit of horror that was now free from my personal expectations of what the movie should be. I came out once again with my expectations destroyed, but this time it wasn’t’ because the film didn’t’ live up to them it was because Happy Death Day 2U isn’t even a horror movie.
Happy Death Day 2U
Director: Christopher Landon
Release Date: February 13, 2019
I’m almost remiss to say that Happy Death Day 2U isn’t a horror film since its complete and total shift in genre and tone is one of its best surprises. Instead of a horror movie with a gimmick the sequel is morphed into a science-fiction/time travel/horror/comedy hybrid riding along on the strength of its insanely charming star and a stupid amount of bravado. I’m mentioning it, though, because there’s sure to be people who go into this wanting a horror film and coming out letdown like I was with the first one. That would be a shame because the movie is fun as hell.
We open up the day after the first film but this time we’re following Ryan (Phi Vu). He finds himself murdered and suddenly reliving that day. Set up for the gang to get together and solve Ryan’s problem in a shoddy remake of the first film, right? Wrong, suckas. The movie veers drastically left as Tree (Jessica Rothe) gets sucked into a parallel dimension thanks to a quantum mechanics experiment it turned out Ryan was running. In this world, her mother is still alive but the possible love of her life, Carter (Israel Broussard), is dating someone else. Also, she’s once again reliving the same day over and over and there’s a baby-faced killer on the lose. Set up for this parallel universe gang to get together and solve the problem in a shoddy remake fo the first film, right? Wrong again, suckas.
Happy Death Day 2U barely even touches the horror genre. The film isn’t about Tree’s fear of the killer, the killer isn’t even the cause of most of her deaths. Instead, the film plays hard into the comedic aspects of the situation and the science fiction edge. There’s a montage of creative suicides by Tree that is especially fun (as bad as that sounds). There’s a full-on comedy heist that comes out of left field. There’s a plucky gang of screwy scientists even. In fact, the film’s big reveal of who the killer is this time around feels like it’s coming from another movie. There was a horror film going on but we didn’t watch it because we were watching the sci-fi comedy where Tree solved time travel quantum mechanics stuff.
It’s such a bold shift and not something you’d expect from horror makers Blumhouse, that it takes a second to adjust. Once you do it’s incredibly easy to enjoy the film. That’s in no small part in thanks to Rothe, whose charm once again carries even the dumbest parts of the movie. Most “Scream Queens” don’t get this much fun, comedy, and creativity to work with but Rothe runs away with it. The rest of the cast is definitely there but the movie is hers and both she and the filmmakers know this, basically eschewing every other actor to either pratfalls or exposition. Normally, that would be a ding but with Rothe you just want more of her on screen all the time.
With the shift to science fiction, however, comes a lot of that exposition. At times the film feels rushed, especially with the ending discussed before. While it’s fun to think that the filmmakers intentionally tried to tack the ending to a completely separate horror film onto this movie, it’s more likely that they just rushed things a bunch. The movie doesn’t feel quite as smart as the original and the plot definitely jumps around a lot. It was one of those times where I thought that a TV series would fit the direction of a film better. Tree’s emotional arch with her decision over whether to stay in the universe where her mother was alive or return to her proper world was actually executed well but could have been given more room to breathe.
Overall, Happy Death Day 2U is a refreshing surprise. It’s a bold move to completely shift a movie’s genre with the sequel and it paid off in spades. Normally horror film sequels try to recapture the success of the original by doing the exact same thing and what we get is less. Here, instead of rewatching the same movie but “more,” we get an entirely new take on the idea that actually expands on the original. Turns out this is the best way to make a sequel. I wonder how many times they had to reset the day to come to that realization.