'Happy Death Day 2U' Review

Jessica Rothe and Israel Broussard light up the screen in “Happy Death Day 2U.”

Do you remember how fun, creative and energetic the original 2017 Happy Death Day was? (If you haven’t seen it, squeeze it in really quick before catching the sequel this Valentine’s Day weekend because both are perfect date movies.) I can recall how it was not on my radar at all, especially after enjoying Edge of Tomorrow (later retitled Live. Die. Repeat. on disc) so much. But then it was released, and people were loving it. So, I watched it as soon as I could, and I was dead wrong. It was fantastic!

With its sequel, cleverly titled Happy Death Day 2U, I was also worried. It’s pretty common for horror movie sequels to soil the bed, because they too often amplify what made the original so good and stick to the rinse-and-repeat method. However, while Happy Death Day 2U does just that, it puts a little stank on it.

Once again (but with feeling), we follow college student Tree Gelbman (a knock-out Jessica Rothe) as she is forced to relive a day in her life over and over again, each time concluding with her merciless death by a slasher wearing a baby-faced mask. Only this time, we understand why it’s all happening (for better or worse).

The main difference here — and I’ll refrain from revealing the details — is the horror aspect takes a backseat. There are moments that aim to get your blood pumping, but they are mainly cheap sequences where there’s a crescendo as a character slowly walks down a hallway before the killer ultimately pops out. We’ve seen it a hundred times. That said, I don’t believe filmmaker Christopher Landon, who also directed the first film, was trying to fashion a skin-crawling horror film. If anything, he wanted his series to evolve and bend genres — and, for the most part, it successfully takes the shape of a sci-fi comedy with some horror elements sprinkled throughout.

The science-fiction side to the film involves finding out what is causing this time loop to happen in the first place. Initially, I worked against the film for making the decision to reveal the secrets of that mystery because it’s more fun to speculate; however, I can’t knock Landon too much for going in this direction. It allows him to further develop his characters and avoid falling into a sequel that’s an obvious cash grab. So, if you see it and are immediately turned off by that explanation, give it some time for it to collect its footing again and ease you into its new ideas.

One of the film’s best new ideas is delving into Tree’s relationship with her family. Happy Death Day 2U changes up the rules and the loop doesn’t operate exactly as before, much to Tree’s (and our) surprise. Tiptoeing around spoilers, I will just say the emotions felt in this film hit like a knife to the heart. It may push it little hard at times, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I got choked up by a key sequence or two. You’ll know it when you see it. It’s a lot like A Quiet Place in that regard.

The biggest letdown about the film is how much it leans into its silliness. This sequel is damn goofy, operating like a cheesy romantic comedy fit for the Disney Channel. It’s apparent these moments are intentional, but watching Tree jump out of an airplane without a parachute and fall to her death in slow motion as she flips the bird might send your eyes rolling. Some of the comedy works, and other times it doesn’t stick.

Regardless, it’s lively energy throughout held my attention, mainly because Rothe and her lover boy — played by a charming-as-ever Israel Broussard — light up the screen. If they (as well as the other actors, including Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma and Sarah Yarkin) weren’t so confident and committed to their roles, this film would blow out its candles too quick. Thankfully, it swings in the other direction.

Happy Death Day 2U doesn’t defeat its predecessor’s originality, but there’s enough here for it to have its cake and eat it, too.

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work on FreshFiction.tv. Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.

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