Happy Death Day 2U trades the balanced horror comedy tone of the original for something far less entertaining.
Score: 3/5 (If I had not seen the first film, this would have lost .5 in the score, read on for why.)
2017’s Groundhog’s Day meets teen slasher Happy Death Day surprised the hell out of me. I originally wrote it off as a cheap way to take that reset the day gimmick for a quick buck, but what I got was a surprisingly self aware funny horror movie that happened to have some solid character development. It worked. Jessica Rothe’s Tree Gelbman grew from the worst kind of sorority girl to a compassionate human being. She overcame a great trauma in her life and from this change positively impacted everyone around her save for the jealous classmate that wanted her dead.
You’ll notice I spent way more time than I should talking about the first film. Well for one, I liked that movie, but the bigger thing is that seeing the first movie actually makes the sequel play better. So with that in mind you’ll see why I liked this movie more than I actually should. You see, Happy Death Day 2U has some smart follow-ups to the original tied together by a nowhere near as interesting or fun movie.
First the good, Jessica Rothe is still the best thing about this franchise. Her reactions to situations are still entertaining, with pretty much anyone else involved, and the heavy moments still hit hard for the girl who already had a huge life changing moment just a day earlier timeline wise. In this entry Tree’s sorority sister Danielle (Rachel Matthews) is given some more screen time to great effect as well. She’s equally amusing and helps balance out a lot of Tree-less moments. As for the rest of the cast it’s more paint by numbers which for a teen horror movie makes sense.
That said, it’s not as much of a horror movie this time. They completely revel in the joke that this is ridiculous what’s going on, so this film plays less into the horror end of things and more into the comedy. I don’t think it works as well, the balance between the two gave the first film that recipe of surprise. Like when you somehow make a great meal out of subpar ingredients. It shouldn’t work but wow that was tasty. That doesn’t happen this time because the replacement to the horror bits? Teen level science fiction with teen plot conveniences. What does that mean you say? It means they try to over explain why the day keeps resetting, and to keep the plot moving add moments that just feel cringe worthy and not quite soap opera level ridiculous.
The deep dive into multiverses both adds interesting moments for someone who has seen the original but also brings the baggage of the writers trying to find a way to make sense of the events. I would have much more enjoyed less explanation and more bizarreness if they were going to take the horror out as much as they did. The interesting things that happen from alternate realities that this movie gives you, is that it allows for a challenge to the same day over and over gimmick of the Groundhog’s Day genre. You see for us who have seen the original when this kicks in we are in the same mode as Tree.
The day has changed, the rules have changed. It means characters have completely different relationships and lives. It gives this fresh feeling where you want to know what else has changed. I liked these moments, but again, I liked them because I was so familiar with what came before. If I had went in blind, the minute explanation of the last movie doesn’t allow you as a viewer to have this connection with Tree’s point of view. It also lessens the impact of a big character moment for her. Her big choice of this film.
By the time the movie came to an end, I felt a disappointed by what was missing from the original but liked some of the spins on the original at play. It was clear though that this story needed the horror elements to keep the comedy in check. It’s also hinted at the end end of the movie, (those who have seen it know what I’m talking about) that the comedy end has fully taken control. Screw the horror, let’s go full on laughs. Which who knows? Could be interesting, but not with this odd teen sci-fi wrappings you’d expect from a CW show.