I was thoroughly surprised with 2017’s “Happy Death Day.” The more I’ve thought about it and re-watched it, I’ve come to like it more and more as a horror reworking of “Groundhog’s Day.” It’s a fun and creepy character piece about a despicable young woman who realizes that maybe the way to keep herself from dying and end the cycle of re-living the same day over and over, is to think about other people in her life. “Happy Death Day 2U” is that same concept, but a wholly different movie. It’s a sequel that brings us a new angle of the narrative, expands on the concept of the original film, while also continuing to explore the character of Tree Gelbman.
After the events of the 2017 film, Tree awakens in her new boyfriend Carter’s dorm to realize she’s in a parallel universe. When she learns that his roommate Ryan has been building a machine that can configure time, she decides to find a way to use it and fix her own reality. But that proves to be tough as she keeps getting killed by that nasty baby faced slasher. Even worse the people in her life also start becoming victims, and she has to think fast before she loses everything. Before we met Tree, she’d been through hell and back, as well as sabotaging so much of the good things in her life. While Christopher Landon builds a weird and fun time traveling, science fiction, horror comedy, he also has continued building the path to self realization and redemption for Tree Gelbman.
The way that “Happy Death Day 2U” swiftly and slyly shifts the angles of the narrative without making the film feel unfocused or scattered is surprising, and I was all on board for the way Landon re-introduces us to Tree Gelbman. There’s a wider range of characters this time around, giving us so many more allies for Tree, but also a lot more potential suspects for whoever or whomever is wearing the infamous baby mask. Landon has a lot of chance to completely repeat a lot of what “Happy Death Day” covered, but the sequel thankfully drops the “Groundhog’s Day” scenario in favor of something in line with “The Butterfly Effect.” Director Landon doesn’t just deliver a sequel, he also completely rethinks his own original “Happy Death Day” injecting Tree in to some of the same scenarios all over again, and then completely throwing her for a loop when she realizes she’s on a brand new playing field.
He also re-introduces characters from the original film and actually surprisingly spends time redeeming them and gaining a better understanding of why they act as they do. The sequel delves more in to science fiction and comedy this time, and while it does maintain a lot of the slasher elements with the masked killer, and the culprit remaining a mystery, Christopher Landon embraces more genres and successfully mixes them in to the original film’s concept to expand on the reality Tree is confined to. She’s never quite sure why she’s entered another universe, but the entire time she spends every moment discover why she’s in another loop, and trying to re-configure the world around her for the sake of finding the key to ending it all. All the while she has to confront the masked murderer who has their own motives.
The cast are all as good as ever with Phi Vu playing a great side hero, as well as Danielle Bouseman who is delightfully irritating as Rachel. Jessica Rothe, however, is the show stopper as Tree Gelbman, a woman who is understandably horrified when she realizes she’s stuck in a similar scenario, and resorts to every measure to reset the clock and try to alter the world in her favor. It’s impressive how Rothe can make us laugh with ace physical comedy one moment, and then have us reaching for tissues as this girl tormented by the death of her only role model, the next. “Happy Death Day 2U” is a great follow up that might alienate a few fans for its willingness to be bizarre and place the horror elements as more of an afterthought, I but appreciated it and had a great time for that very fact.