Happy Death Day. Russian Doll. Happy Death Day 2U. My week has been filled with hours of entertainment that involved pretty women dying over and over again. The genre that started with Groundhog Day has seen a spike of popularity in 2019. Is it because we too feel like we’re trapped in a nightmare that we’re destined to live out on a loop until the end of time? Is it naught but a metaphor for the social, political and moral unrest of our time?
Or is it just an excuse to use some really fun audio cues?
Either way, Happy Death Day 2U serves up the same cheap and slick horror the first movie had in spades. It’s the perfect encapsulation of a Blumhouse film, low budget, fun and jam packed with cute actors you’ve never heard of (but quickly fall in love with). The sequel brings us back to Tree’s idyllic college world. She’s got a boyfriend, her crazy roommate is dead, she’s stopped having an affair with her skeezy professor and she isn’t dying every night. That new found sense of equilibrium is quickly shattered when her boyfriend’s roommate Ryan starts experiencing the same time loops. While Tree tries to coach him through it, some overenthusiastic physics students start messing with time and space and things get even wonkier. There’s alternate dimensions, even more time loops and a very killer death montage. Our favorite dead girl is back.
Just like with Happy Death Day, Jessica Rothe carries the movie in her role as Tree. The combination of her confidence, naiveté and white hot charisma is undeniable. Every time she’s off the screen you want her back, so it’s a relief when Ryan stops being the focus of the loops and Tree gets dragged back into the madness. This time around, she’s a little sharper. She may know how to disengage the safety on a gun, but slipping into alternate dimensions brings up old wounds. Plus, (almost) everyone is nicer in the other dimension. The emotional core of Happy Death Day 2U is surprisingly even stronger than the first and manages to further Tree’s growth, without feeling like we’re going digging into the same trauma over and over again.
For a movie about repetition, it manages to dredge up some fresh feelings, but Happy Death Day 2U is not without its problems. While the first movie fits firmly into the slasher sub-genre, the sequel gives way more time to laughs and time travel kookiness than blood and guts. By the end, it feels more like Back to the Future than Scream. There’s still a killer haunting the halls of Bayside University, but the real tension lies in whether Tree will be able to make it back to her own dimension in time.
It would have been easy for Happy Death Day 2U to fail. Not only did the first film stand fine on its own, but the time loop plot device could have easily made this film feel like a boring rehash of the same old story line. Instead, the sequel was able to juggle time travel and emotion and comedy in a way that felt just as captivating as the original. Despite its flaws, I wouldn’t mind a Happy Death Day 3Ever. I’ll take as much of Tree Gelbman as Jason Blum will give me.