Happy Death Day was a cheesy, teen horror-slasher that capitalised on the camp and thrived because of its fun premise. It wasn’t perfect but it sure was entertaining. Its 16-months-later follow-up, ingeniously titled Happy Death Day 2U, is all of those things and so, so much more: it’s a horror, a comedy, a sci-fi, a drama, a thriller, a heist and a soap opera all in one. But too many cooks can spoil – or, in this case, overwhelm – the broth and we are left with a convoluted, extremely messy yet somehow still enjoyable sequel.
When she unexpectedly re-enters the time loop, Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) is more determined than ever to escape it after finding out Carter (Israel Broussard) and her friends are now involved. With a new killer on the loose, Tree must break the loop and decide which multi-verse she should make her home. With Christopher Landon back as writer and director, and Rothe returning in the starring role alongside Broussard, Happy Death Day 2U has all the ingredients in place but can’t quite make it work as successfully.
Upon its release, I likened the first Happy Death Day to Ryan Murphy’s sorority-inspired anthology horror, Scream Queens. Trashy, bitchy and completely it’s own thing, both pieces flourished as teen-orientated slashers with an emphasis on creative kills and scheming sisters. This latest instalment continues that analogy perfectly, as 2U is reminiscent of that series’ second (and final) season: disappointing but serviceable, recognisable but all too familiar and without as sharp a focus on its tone. It’s not strong enough to enthuse you regarding a continuation but neither does it damage your interest entirely. The filmmakers may have promised a major departure from the first but it rehashes and revisits the same old ground, hoping to distract with a “clearer” focus on the science, and by tipping the formula to highlight the comedy over the horror.
It’s an interesting set-up but it doesn’t always work, particularly throughout that dodgy opening act. Landon’s script is riddled with tech-speak that the first half an hour ties itself in knots attempting to explain, only for it to be rendered pointless when it ultimately amounts to little. It dips in and out of genres in an attempt to remain fresh and, one would argue, distract from the scientific waffle its paddling — but without the self-assured tonal balance that made the first so fun, it’s not nearly as satisfying. There are some inspired moments, no doubt, including a suicide montage set to Paramore’s Hard Times, an inspired musical choice for the film’s credits and consistently great humour and visual gags, so it’s not without its props. It is derivative of the first film and accidentally repetitive but there is an effort to evolve itself and it maintains your attention, even during the chaos.
Thankfully, the returning cast members are on hand to strengthen the weaker script. Jessica Rothe continues to prove herself a star, with a committed, confident performance that meets – nay, exceeds – the demands of the narrative. She sells the cattiness and desperation effectively, handling the more-deserving emotional beats with more gusto and credibility than the first film managed; it’s one area where this sequel thrives, with some genuinely earnest thematic musings that texture a piece you could otherwise assuredly argue as disposable. Rothe deserves to be a star and if Happy Death Day 2U proves anything, it’s that she can handle whatever genre you throw at her.
Israel Broussard could charm the birds out of the trees and Rachel Matthews once again thrives as the bitchy scene-stealer who delivers one of the most ridiculous set pieces in the film – and I mean that in the best way possible. The new cast members aren’t up to much and, in the first act at least, frustrate as forced comedic relief; thankfully, they mellow as the film progresses and understands how to use them.
Happy Death Day 2U definitely isn’t as secure in its campy, slasher tone as the first; the consequence of trying to be and do so much more. Landon’s script is as messy as a sorority house at the end of Freshers’ week and more than anything, it needs restraint – but with solid direction, some cracking performances and a rendition of Stayin’ Alive scoring the credits, it does the job. So if you liked the first, grab yourself a plate and cut yourself a slice of cake!