‘Happy Death Day 2U’ review: A risky genre-bending exercise

Happy Death Day 2U as a go-for-broke sequel has a bunch of hit or miss ideas under its belt.

The following review contains major spoilers from Happy Death Day and minor spoilers from Happy Death Day 2U.

One of Blumhouse’s low-budget breakout films in 2017, Happy Death Day, is a high-concept, black-comedy slasher flick that can be easily explained as a mashup of Groundhog Day and Scream. In the film, an obnoxious college student Tree (Jessica Rothe) finds herself reliving the same events of her birthday (“Monday the 18th”) only to be murdered by the end of it. After trying and dying for eleven times, she finally figures out who the ‘Babyface Killer’ is – her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) – and kills her before she does, thereby successfully breaking the time loop. Or so she thought.

While the film could’ve worked as a stand-alone, its sequel, Happy Death Day 2U, answers the loose threads of the first film, more specifically, the cause of the strange, recurring phenomena. Turns out, Ryan (Phi Vu), the roommate of Tree’s love interest Carter (Israel Broussard), has been working on a quantum reactor that backfired and affected Tree whose within close proximity. Now HDD2U’s trailer may suggest that she somehow gets sent back to the same loophole again but what the trailer disguises is that Tree actually gets sucked to an alternate reality of her “Monday the 18th.” Yes, this sequel pushes the boundary to sci-fi territory and works on the concept of a multiverse. If you’re caught up with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse or The Flash TV series, this should not be confusing.

The gang tries to crack the time loop formula in ‘Happy Death Day 2U.’ L-R: Israel Broussard (Carter), Phi Vu (Ryan), Sarah Yarkin (Dre), Suraj Sharma (Samar) and Jessica Rothe (Tree).

Regardless, the film explains the proceedings to its viewers by utilizing the roles of Ryan and his coalition of science geeks to spell out the scientific mumbo jumbo behind it. With the alternate dimension in play, the circumstances are now different: there’s a change in relationship among the characters, the ‘Babyface Killer’ is no longer Lori, and each death makes Tree weaker. Part of Tree’s ordeal is not only to figure out who the new killer is, but also to find a way to get back to her original and now normal dimension, “Tuesday the 19th.”

For better or worse, HDD2U is distinctly goofier than its predecessor. Writer-director Christopher Landon recognizes the need to add something fresh to his running gimmick by unabashedly transitioning the sequel to sci-fi comedy, even referencing Back to the Future II to show the film’s level of self-awareness. And the tonal shift does not end there – in an attempt to add more fun and substance, the screenplay haphazardly moves to college romance, family drama, heist then finally, slapstick comedy. This apparent genre-bending exercise can be a deal-breaker to some but for the most part, it contributes to the film’s zaniness. True to its core, HDD2U feels like an alternate and bonkers version of the first film.

Confronting the original ‘Babyface Killer.’ L-R: Broussard, Ruby Modine (Lori), Vu and Rothe.

The risks that the film takes does not always pay off. Once again, we are left with even more plot holes and loose threads, and the film’s horror elements are deliberately placed in the backseat – a huge disappointment for those who are out for blood and scares. Had Landon found a way to make the masked killer more integral to the plot, this would feel more as an organic sequel. Compared to the first film where Tree is always racing against time, there’s less urgency here given that the story is busy delving into its comical and sci-fi elements.

It is Rothe’s delightful and versatile performance that mostly binds the franchise together. From a character perspective, the first film feels earned due to her redemptive arc from being an insensitive b*tch to a kick-ass heroine. This sequel gives her the opportunity to wrestle with more internal conflicts, thereby adding more emotional depth to Tree. Her frustration and anger remain to be played for amusement but unlike other ‘death’-centric films such as Final Destination, she never feels like a doomed pawn. The character feels empowered knowing that she’s in the joke and she can reset the day anytime she wanted to. Hence when it comes to her creative and brilliantly edited suicide montage – including a fashionable skydive in bikini, this is where the film truly shines as a dark comedy.

The Quantum Reactor. Broussard and Rothe in ‘Happy Death Day 2U.’

Happy Death Day 2U can definitely use another sitting in the screenplay editing room. While it has the big balls to subvert more expectations in its genre, it’s a flawed affair. Its sci-fi elements won’t fare against scrutiny (not that the film asks you to sweat on the details), it occasionally forgets the standard landmarks to be a slasher film, and it’s definitely at its weakest when it tries to force a soulmate level of romance between Tree and Carter (cue in those cringy kissing scenes!) Otherwise, it is one of those sequels that somehow retroactively improves the original. How fascinating is that.

A third film is teased through a Marvel-esque post-credit scene – an implication that the ride will only get more bizarre and much larger in scope from where it started. It’s something that I’ll definitely watch just to see how it all ends. But frankly, at this point, the franchise already starts to show strain from the ‘time loop fatigue’ that a third film could either keep the whole thing tighter or let it collapse under the weight of its ideas.

3 out of 5 stars
Directed and written by Christopher Landon, ‘Happy Death Day 2U‘ stars Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Rachel Matthews, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma, Sarah Yarkin, Ruby Modine, Steve Zissis, and Charles Aitken. Run time: 100 minutes.

‘To All The Boys’ star steps into another love triangle in ‘Happy Death Day 2U’

Hot-off the smash success of Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before where he played the boy-next-door Josh, Israel Broussard now reprises the role of Carter in Universal Pictures’ new suspense thriller Happy Death Day 2U, the sequel to the 2017 acclaimed box-office hit Happy Death Day.  

In the film, no sooner has Tree (Jessica Rothe) said goodbye to the endless loop and begun a promising new relationship with Carter (Broussard) than she realizes that solving the puzzle of her bizarre murder has had unintended consequences—on a scale that will send shockwaves through the multiverse.

The moral compass in Tree’s life—and the one ally she can constantly depend upon to do what’s right—is Carter, played again by Israel Broussard. Once more, Broussard brings to Carter an honesty and charm that makes audiences understand why Tree couldn’t help but fall for him.

The performer shares which elements of the series brought him back for the new chapter, and it boils down to the guessing game that writer-director Christopher Landon has created. “In the first movie, Tree and Carter were trying to figure out who the killer was, and there were a lot of jump scares,” says Broussard. “You still have those elements in this film, but it’s heightened with ‘Wait! We thought this was the killer, and it’s not.’ The mystery’s back, but once you add all the other dimensions, now we’ve got a whole booklet of possible murder suspects.”

Broussard particularly appreciated how Landon gave his character and our heroine another obstacle to climb in the sequel. “Tree went through hell and woke up right back in it,” he says. “They are in an inter-dimensional love triangle, one where Tree wakes up in this other dimension—where Danielle and Carter are a thing. Still, Carter has this undeniable attraction to Tree. He’s dancing around being respectful toward Danielle, but still acting out of his heart. He’s having this internal fight and dialogue of ‘What am I going to do with Tree?’”

In Philippine cinemas February 13, Happy Death Day 2U is distributed in the Philippines by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

About Israel Broussard

Israel Broussard (Carter) began acting after playing the role of Percy in Biloxi Little Theater’s production of The Miracle Worker in 2006. In 2010, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting as a career. Broussard had supporting roles in Flipped (2010) and The Chaperone (2011), before being cast in the lead role in Sofia Coppola’s crime film The Bling Ring (2013). He followed this with roles in Perfect High (2015), H8RZ(2015), Jack of the Red Hearts (2015), Good Kids (2016), Happy Death Day (2017), Netflix’s Extinction (2018) and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018).

About Happy Death Day 2U

Jessica Rothe leads the returning cast of Happy Death Day 2U, the follow-up to Blumhouse’s (Glass, Split, Get Out, The Purge series) surprise 2017 hit of riveting, repeating twists and comic turns. This time, our hero Tree Gelbman (Rothe) discovers that dying over and over was surprisingly easier than the dangers that lie ahead.

When last we left Tree, she saved herself from a certain death at the hands of her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine, Showtime’s Shameless) as she kicked the psychopath out of the Kappa Nu sorority window. Tree’s never-ending birthday was FINALLY over, and she managed to start an entire new life…swearing to never repeat her old mistakes again.

Or so she thought.