If there’s any horror sequel that’s worthy of a repeat, it’s “Happy Death Day 2U.” Writer/director, Christopher Landon’s promising continuation of his surprisingly spry time loop PG-13 horror-comedy smash “Happy Death Day,” is given a liberating golden pass to ultimately remix its original and fundamentally remake his hit film.
Landon uses this winning sequel opportunity to not merely redo his refreshingly animated original film but challenge it— building upon its kooky, evergreen foundation and expand the story in scope, scale, genre, and tone. The result is a sequel that lives up to the promise delivered by the first film, and one that suggests that this newfound series could continue vibrantly for the foreseeable future.
Just as good-humored and lively, “Happy Death Day 2U” breaks the mold of the first film within its first sequence by following the perspective of Ryan Phan (Phi Vu), the hapless dorm roommate of Carter Davis (Israel Broussard), rather than the plight of Tree Gelbman (the wonderful Jessica Rothe).
His nonchalant day at the university turns into a series of odd occurrences; bitten by a hostile dog, accosted by an aggressive homeless man, a confrontation with a student trumpet player (college can be a weird place). It all culminates in unfortunate circumstances: Ryan’s death. Walking down a dark corridor, Ryan soon finds murdered by the familiar baby-mask-wearing killer.
From there the déjà vu time loop resets again, and Ryan finds himself telling Tree about his death. She recaps the events of the previous film—didn’t stop until the killer was defeated—and “Happy Death Day 2U” is off and running again, and this time it’s a different timeline.
“Happy Death Day” was joyfully silly romantic comedy/dark college comedy disguised as a slasher horror flick by unsuspecting Blumhouse audiences. What could’ve been another lifeless rehash of the near-perfect formula of “Groundhog Day” turned out to be an impressively agile, rambunctiously spirited and gleefully self-aware.
This sequel is most ambitious, polished and eager to please. But with its inclusions of sci-fi elements and the desire to shift towards a more ensemble-heavy film, “Happy Death Day 2U” accommodates and stretches itself to be sillier and spunkier.
The result is a film not quite compact as the original, but it also proves to be a more accessible and emotional. Unlike, say, “Glass,” Landon’s new film is a wide-reaching sequel that’s also aware of its limitations, but it doesn’t allow itself to be concerned and deterred by its potential restrictions.
“Happy Death Day 2U” also succeeds in not fetishizing the constant deaths of its main character — though there is an entertaining suicide-laced montage in the middle that might call those comments in question for some viewers (Tree even appears to be aware she’s in a movie at times). The consistently zany elements of ‘2U’ prove to be a great benefit in keeping this new movie restrained from reality and in its own heightened sense of poppy goofiness.
And Jessica Rothe, is terrific and splendidly glues the entire franchise together. Having already proven herself to be a wonderfully versatile actress, Rothe’s return to the role of Tree isn’t as front and center, but continues to make the most of it and brings such a wealth of comedic and emotional sincerity.
Having proven itself triumphant during its first spin, it’s certainly easy to see how “Happy Death Day 2U” could’ve slummed it and renewed the cycle in a fashion similar to the first. But it’s to the benefit of Christopher Landon and his cast that he chose to challenge himself and provide a sequel that’s enjoyable more daring and determined than the original. The result is another likable and lovingly sequel that, that’s enjoyably just as loopy. [B]