Happy Death Day 2U review: can history repeat itself?
The time-loop horror hit gets a sequel, but can lightning strike twice?
“Live. Die. Repeat.” Was actually the tagline (and better title) to 2014 cyclical sci-fi Edge Of Tomorrow, but it pretty fairly sums up several similarly themed Groundhog Day-style films and TV shows of the last decade – including 2011’s Source Code, Netflix’s latest buzzy existential comedy that we’re not naming for reasons of spoilers, certain bits of The Good Place, Marlon Wayan’s comedy Naked and, of course, Happy Death Day.
So if you’re experiencing a sense of déjà vu with Happy Death Day 2U, that’s hardly surprising. Fortunately, Christopher Langdon’s sequel to his excellent Blumhouse teen-comedy-slasher takes the idea and pushes it to new heights – in the first half, at least (sadly, it’s not quite able to keep up with its own cleverness in the final act, but more on that later). Happy Death Day 2U is a funny, enjoyable and good-natured teen romp, but it suffers from time-loop fatigue and too many loose ends.
We’re back at Bayfield University after the events of Tree’s (Jessica Rothe) never-ending birthday in the first film, and things appear to be normal. Well, for Tree at least, who believes she has broken the loop. Not for science major Ryan (Phi Vu), however, whose day is about to get a whole lot longer.
What begins as a ‘same again’ sequel, as Ryan teams up with Tree to escape multiple deaths at the hands of another baby-masked slasher, quickly turns super-meta. A machine Ryan’s been working on looks as if it could be the cause of the time loops and, worse still, it might just have opened a portal to the multiverse. Now Tree is back in the frame, the killer isn’t the same one as in the original movie (no names, for spoilers’ sake) and with every new death she succumbs to, she’s getting weaker.
Packed with pop-culture references from Inception to Back To The Future 2, Happy Death Day 2U leans away from its slasher roots and quickly becomes a comedy caper as the team – which includes Tree’s boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard), Ryan, and his techy mates Samar (Suraj Sharma, the kid from Life of Pi!) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin) – combine their skills to solve the mystery, close the time loop and save Tree’s life.
Sharp, snappy dialogue, inventive, funny deaths and a couple of great rug-pulls combine to give this the pacey thrills of a ’90s high-school romp (we’re thinking something like The Faculty), while one shock reveal could’ve taken this down a dark Time Crimes-esque path. But by the final act, some of these big ideas have been sidelined for an emotional subplot that doesn’t quite ring true. A love story element, which may be there to appeal to a teen demographic, feels like it belongs in a different film, the action grows (unintentionally) repetitive and a whole interesting early thread is entirely forgotten.
Rothe is a charismatic lead, but her co-stars don’t have much chance to develop characters of their own outside their function to the plot, and the post-credits sequence (yes there is one) adds little except a chance for a third part.
By the end, the horror element is virtually forgotten and any semblance of a coherent motivation for the masked killer is right out the window. By the time one character is pretending to be blind and French, and a conveniently placed jar of marbles becomes key to a wacky plan, HDD2U has reached peak slapstick and becomes a different movie altogether. It works as a feel-good comedy, but it’s lost the bite and focus of the original.
Happy Death Day 2U is a decent follow up but you’d probably have more fun watching the original again. And again. And again.