Happy Death Day 2U - Review

The stakes and risks are raised for Happy Death Day 2U, but they’re as hollow as before.

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Blumhouse really are trying anything. Their sequel to 2015’s minor success, Happy Death Day, is a novel idea: centering on a college sorority girl who has to live and die the same day over and over again until she can stop her killer, the universe is expanded far beyond the initial premise for the sequel. Happy Death Day 2U is not as bonkers as you may have heard, and fumbles more than it doesn’t, but it is more memorable than the rest of the pseudo-horror fodder releasing these days.

Happy Death Day 2U isn’t a horror movie at all. It draws roots from slasher movies like Scream and the original, but this is a science fiction film, and proud to be one. Convoluted storylines, exaggerated technology, and way-too-smart college students abound to push the story into the ridiculous. No scene is based in reality, a smart call given the fact that the same plot would have been about three hundred times less interesting the second time around, something the film plays with in its fake-out opener. Ryan (Phi Vu), a friend of Tree’s (Jessica Rothe) boyfriend, becomes locked in the same time loop Tree was in the first, forced to relive the same day until he can discover who killed him. But surprise, this time it’s himself. What follows is an 80s-influenced series of shenanigans, stereotypes, and science-fiction weirdness. There is almost no tension to Happy Death Day 2U, swapping it for a playful and often emotionally poignant story, one that cookie-cutter characters often get in the way of.

Jessica Rothe as Tree has only improved this time around. She’s a force to be reckoned with in a decidedly small-concept series, and takes the brunt of the genre-switch in stride. Her emotional abilities are stretched in a surprisingly affecting scene with her mother, who is dead in one timeline, but alive in another. Don’t worry about how that happened or why, the film doesn’t either. Instead, laugh along as Tree kills herself in various ways to “Stayin’ Alive”, and cry when she has to choose between her mom and her real life. It brings up relevant questions, but is always moving onto the next joke. Think of Deadpool, only without the spot-on self-awareness. The rest of the supporting cast is not as merciful: it’s like watching an episode of Riverdale with the lights on.

Happy Death Day 2U is not the surprise sleeper-hit of the early year. There is a glut of uninteresting characters, the concept is thin, and many of the college-aged puns are immediately off-putting. There are aspects that redeem it, like Tree’s maturation into a character worth following (all courtesy of Jessica Rothe), and the try-anything atmosphere, but those risks often add up to little more than a mediocre genre-film, content to impress with its ability to be anything more than watchable.