Happy Death Day 2U (United States, 2019)

February 14, 2019
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Happy Death Day 2U Poster

Put Happy Death Day 2U together with its predecessor, Happy Death Day, and you could easily call the pair Dumb and Dumber. Whatever pleasures this comedy-tinged horror/thriller may have to offer, coherence and intelligence aren’t among them. Halfway through this sequel, I gave up trying to follow the narrative. On those rare occasions when it almost seemed to make sense, I almost wished it didn’t. Wanting to ramp things up for the second installment, writer/director Christopher Landon digs deeper into his bag of tricks. In addition to the Groundhog Day-inspired repetition of the original film, he throws in things like parallel universes, time loops, and a few other sci-fi tropes. Back to the Future joins Groundhog Day as an influence. Unfortunately, Landon doesn’t have a good working knowledge of how all these things work (aside from maybe watching a few episodes of Star Trek or Doctor Who) and he gets just about everything wrong (at least insofar as the science aspects are concerned). The result is a complete and utter mess.

Still, the movie isn’t unwatchable. Thanks to a comedic edge and a fun performance by lead actress Jessica Rothe, whose Tree Gelbman gets to run the gamut from emotionally distraught to batshit insane, Happy Death Day 2U breezes along quickly. It overstays its welcome – there’s a least one delay too many in getting to the end – but it’s by no means painful. As with the first film, the jump scares are feeble and the horror elements close to nonexistent, but Landon compensates with a few surprisingly effective dramatic moments and a philosophical dilemma that carries some weight.

As the movie begins, we’re back in the world where the first movie transpired but we have jumped to another characters. Ryan Phan (Phi Vu), a supporting personality in Happy Death Day, is having a bad day and it gets worse when someone wearing a creepy cute babyface mask kills him. He doesn’t really die (death being an impermanent inconvenience in these films) but instead wakes up just in time to relive the day. When he comes into contact with Tree and confesses his sense of déjà vu, she commiserates. Unfortunately, in their attempts to solve Ryan’s condition, the trio of Tree, Ryan, and Tree’s boyfriend, Carter (Israel Broussard), trigger a space-time event that re-starts Tree’s repetition cycle. This time, however, she has been transported to a parallel universe where her mother is alive, her roommate is sane, and someone else is playing the part of the killer. The goal is to heal the breach, stop the loop, and deal with the fact that Carter is dating her best friend, Danielle (Rachel Matthews). To speed things up, rather than waiting for the babyface slasher to slice-and-dice her, Tree starts committing suicide. Cue the montage. The movie’s greatest evidence of creativity comes in some of the ways Tree chooses to kill herself (one involves a wood chipper – something that would never, ever be my choice to go, even if I was looking for something unusual). Unmasking the new killer is a secondary consideration and Landon doesn’t invest much creative energy into making this aspect credible, interesting, or suspenseful.

Happy Death Day 2U was made for about double the production budget of its predecessor – the “bump” is evident in some nifty special effects used to make the time-wrecking “science project” look suitably futuristic – which is still rather cheap. With the PG-13 rating, the movie has the kind of teen-friendly ambience that should attract at least as impressive an audience as Happy Death Day. It’s the kind of movie that fills a niche and generates a little early-year interest (something desperately needed in 2019). Happy Death Day 2U is a passable way to throw away 100 minutes if you’re willing to turn off your brain and pretend it’s making sense.

Happy Death Day 2U (United States, 2019)

Director: Christopher Landon
Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Suraj Sharma, Steve Zissis
Home Release Date: 2019-05-14
Screenplay: Christopher Landon
Cinematography: Toby Oliver
Music: Bear McCreary
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2019-02-14
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content)
Genre: Horror
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1