It’s accurate to call “Happy Death Day 2U” a dumb movie, and accurate to call it a smart movie. It seems as if Blumhouse studio asked writer-director Christopher Landon (who also directed the 2017 original, from Scott Lobdell’s screenplay) to go hog-wild building on the premise from the first entry, and Landon does just that. This sequel isn’t nearly as much of a straight rehash as the horrible trailers suggest.
(Light spoilers follow.)
“HDD2U’s” cleverest conceit is that it moves into a new genre in order to answer a question not tackled in the original – or in “Groundhog Day” for that matter — of why Tree (Jessica Rothe) is repeating the same day. The answer is found in the science fiction genre, with a serious emphasis on fiction, not so much on science. Carter’s (Israel Broussard) roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) is a science-lab nerd, and he and two fellow students had built a time-manipulating device called Sissy. It had sent out waves that caused Tree to get caught in a time loop.
This is one of those films that moves through the pseudo-science fast enough that you wonder if there’s legitimate science behind it. Then when the movie’s over and you think back, you realize it’s all total bunk. The needs of the plot are what determine Sissy’s effects. Initially it seems like Ryan will be in a time loop in this movie, but then it’s Tree again, and then she’s going through the time loop in another dimension of the multiverse.
Speaking of genres, “HDD2U” is listed as a horror film, and it nominally fits, since there’s still a baby-masked slasher in play. It’s not listed as a comedy on IMDB, but it certainly should be. As she gathers information on how to properly calibrate Sissy to set the universe right again (since her memory is the only thing that survives the daily resets), Tree gets tired of ending all her days being chased and killed by the slasher. So she decides to kill herself, leading to a montage of dark humor that springs from the creativity of her suicides and the horrified faces of bystanders. (The movie never addresses what would happen if she lived till the end of the day.)
The most heartfelt moment of the movie is when Tree reunites with her mom (Missy Yager), but here is another example of “HDD2U” running into the “Groundhog Day” dilemma. That was among the first films to use the “repeated day” formula, but it also perfected it and gave future films with this premise little room to expand. “Groundhog Day” is all about Phil realizing what’s important in life. “HDD2U” flirts with this notion for one thread, and it can’t help but fall short in comparison.
All of that said, Landon delivers a follow-up that’s not cynical, and – aside from the inevitable, frustrating repetition of Tree explaining things again, which the film skims over as much as possible — the mapcap pacing allows the actors to have fun. Rothe seems to be enjoying herself more, and while there’s still no chemistry or depth to the Tree-Carter romance, I admit a multi-dimensional love triangle is not something found in every movie. The other two science nerds – Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin) – have some spunk, and Rachel Matthews, as sorority leader Danielle, gets to show some range thanks to the multiverse premise.
If you’re looking for scares, “HDD2U” is a poor choice; if you’re looking for laughs, you’ll get a few. But this sequel’s greatest achievement is that it wrings 100 minutes of entertainment out of a premise that by all rights should’ve run dry.