I enjoyed Happy Death Day when it came out 18 months ago, but I was still skeptical of the idea for a sequel. I wasn’t encouraged, either, by the underwhelming trailer for Happy Death Day 2U. I’m pleased, therefore, to report that the sequel blows up the original’s setup and pushes its genre-bending fun into new territory.
The movie starts at the fictitious Bayfield University on the day after the events of the original, as secondary character Ryan Phan (Phi Vu) finds himself reliving the same day and being murdered over and over by a slasher wearing a baby mask. You can call this karma, since it turns out he and his fellow quantum physics students (Suraj Sharma and Sarah Yarkin) accidentally created the lethal time loop that trapped Teresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) in the previous movie. Tree is now uniquely well-equipped to help him out of his jam, but unfortunately, Ryan’s attempt to fix things knocks Tree into what initially looks like her old time loop. Her rage at being back dissipates as she realizes that the superficial similarities of this world are hiding significant differences: Her boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard) is now dating bitchy sorority president Danielle (Rachel Matthews), her mom is still alive, and her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) is no longer her killer. So who is stalking the campus with a knife?
Writer-director Christopher Landon inches this sequel further into the realm of comedy from the opening sequence, in which Ryan makes his way to school after a bad night, running into the “stop global warming” girl from the original and a brain-dead student practicing the trombone in the hallway. The delicate touch of this scene could have come from a generic teen comedy. Slasher flicks have inevitable sequences where characters walk down dark hallways where the monster is lurking, and sometimes they just make you impatient. This movie knows that you’re impatient and bakes it in, treating the killer’s appearance as the punchline of a joke. An explosion at the physics lab is treated as a set piece, too, with characters flying through the air in slow motion to the duet from Lakmé. Better still is the montage of Tree repeatedly killing herself Phil Connors-style to reset the loop while she spends the time in between turning herself into a mechanical engineering geek to help the physics students — who have taken to calling her “Crazy White Girl” — set everything back the way it was. Even Danielle grabs a piece of the action, distracting a university dean (Steve Zissis) by pretending to be blind and French. (Danielle fancies herself an actress. Based on her performance, she really needs to switch careers while she’s still in college.)
If you thought Tree’s personal issues were resolved in the first movie, now she has to choose whether to stay in a timeline where she can still talk to her mom (Missy Yager), and while the scenes between them would be unbearable in a straight-up drama, here the slasher comedy conceit dries it out. I have to admire the utter seriousness with which Rothe and Broussard play their ludicrous conversations about parallel universes and alternate dimensions. In embracing the absurdity of the movie’s premise, Rothe turns Tree into a female version of Deadpool, and she works better at a PG-13 rating than he does. I’m not sure where it all goes from here, but Happy Death Day 2U is another order of hijinks.
Happy Death Day 2U
Starring Jessica Rothe and Israel Broussard, Written and directed by Christopher Landon. Rated PG-13.