There are a few problems I have with the sequel to the cult horror movie Happy Death Day (2017), but overall it is a genre-bending film which has a lot to offer modern audiences.
Director Christopher Landon returns to helm the sequel, following on, or in some ways creating a prequel to the original, I suppose. Maybe a parallel reality?
The first film was critically described as ‘Groundhog Day meets Scream’, which is a pretty accurate assessment. Jessica Rothe played Tree Gelbman, a college student who dies after being killed by a mysterious killer hidden by a baby mask, only to repeatedly wake up in bed the next morning (alive and well) with Carter Davis (played by Israel Broussard), living her birthday over and over again. In the end, Tree uncovers the killer’s identity and is able to escape the time loops she has been trapped in, but not before falling in love with the sleepy-eyed Carter.
Happy Death Day 2U set itself up with a slightly different path at the outset. Ryan Phan, played by Phi Vu, appears to be the protagonist at the start of the film. The character only briefly featured in the original but this time, when the baby faced killer returns, Ryan Phan becomes the new target. Dying only to wake up on the same day and relive his college routine. However, this shift changes fairly quickly, after we learn that Phan was responsible for building the machine which caused the original time rift. Pretty soon, Tree Gelbman is head of the show again, as she tries to work out who the new murderer is and how to close the time loop and save the world.
The mix of genres in Happy Death Day 2U is a lot of fun. Basically, it’s still Groundhog Day (1993) meets Scream (1996) but with a little bit of Back to the Future (1985) thrown into the mix as well. There’s obviously some self-awareness in pop culture references and rip-offs and at times the film reaches heights of occasional high brow comedy.
From a narrative standpoint, I found the switching of protagonists a little bit irritating. For one, it left open a whole bunch of unresolved theoretical questions. The last time Ryan Phan dies, we discover an alternate version of himself had come back to destroy the alternate timeline Ryan. Yet, when the perspective shifts back to Tree’s, there is never any significant explanation of the fate of the original Ryan as seen at the start of the movie. Instead, Tree relives her tragic drama over her mother and the turmoil between her and ex-lover Carter Davis. This feels a bit too much like a repeat of the original film, where the different narrative offered more potential for a more interesting sequel.
Still, the film is a lot of fun, and Landon knows his genre rules well enough to play around with bending them in interesting ways. There are some great cast performances from Ruby Modine and Rachel Matthews among others.
The cast have already discussed the possibility of a trilogy for the series, however, such gossip has insinuated that Tree Gelbman return as the protagonist, rather than exploring Ryan’s story, or the more interesting aspects of the multiverse theory.
Happy Death Day 2U, as it’s namesake suggests is a morbid comedy slash horror slash science-fiction movie that achieves a difficult goal.
The wood chipper seen midway through the movie belongs to ‘Biff’s Tree Removal’ service. This is a reference to the character Biff Tannen from the Back to the Future trilogy, which this movie took a lot of inspiration from.