14th Feb2019

‘Happy Death Day 2U’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken, Jason Bayle, Phi Vu, Donna Duplantier, GiGi Erneta | Written and Directed by Christopher Landon


Happy Death Day‘s inspired slasher-version-of-Groundhog-Day premise proved a surprise hit for Blumhouse Productions back in October 2017, so it’s no surprise that a sequel has followed less than two years later. With the entire cast and director Christopher Landon (who also wrote the script, replacing original writer Scott Lobdell) back on board, the sequel finds increasingly clever ways to build on the first film without just resorting to more of the same (even if “more of the same” is the entire point of a time loop movie).

Initially, Happy Death Day 2U begins by focusing on a different character, namely science student Ryan (Phi Vu) – the roommate of heroine Tree’s (Jessica Rothe) now-boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard) – who only had variations on a one-line cameo last time round. Here it’s Ryan who finds himself trapped in a time loop and murdered at the end of the day and he recruits Carter and Tree (who retains awareness of her own time-loop experience and recounts a rapid-fire recap of the first film in one of several comic highlights) to help him, only to realise that his own science project is responsible for the time loop in the first place.

After the situation escalates to a ludicrous degree, something goes wrong and the focus switches back to Tree, who not only finds herself re-living her original time-loop once again (cue a hilarious sequence where she angrily storms through all the repeated moments from the first film), but knocked into an alternate universe, where each character is ever-so-slightly different, which turns out to have huge emotional consequences and leaves Tree with an impossible decision to make.

Essentially, as one of the characters helpfully points out, Tree’s situation is more like Back to the Future 2 than Groundhog Day this time round (amusingly, Tree hasn’t seen either film). Accordingly, the sequel downplays both the slasher aspect and the time-loop element, which makes sense, since the first film already exhausted all the possible permutations of the original premise. However, even in the alternate universe, there’s still a killer on the loose, which means Tree keeps having to go and save people at crucial moments – rather than play this for scares, the film instead uses it as proof that she’s learned to care about others, given that she started the first film as an obnoxious Mean Girl.

Without giving too much away, the sequel somehow manages to find room for both powerful emotion and a thoughtful consideration of the deeper meaning of Tree’s predicament, while still maintaining a race-against-time pace and delivering laugh-out-loud comedy moments. That’s an impressive balance, and credit is due to Landon for making it all work so seamlessly, even if the tone does wobble slightly in the middle section.

In the first film, Rothe pulled off the difficult trick of making Tree obnoxious and likeable at the same time (not unlike, oh yes, Bill Murray in Groundhog Day). This time round she’s grown as a result of her previous experience and is more straightforwardly heroic, but the film still allows her to bust out her killer comic timing and her masterful deployment of a facial expression or line delivery.

The supporting cast are uniformly excellent, particularly new additions Suraj Sharma and Sarah Yarkin, who are both very funny as Ryan’s project partners Shamar and Andrea. Similarly, Rachel Matthews gets to show off a previously untapped gift for physical comedy as supercilious sorority president Danielle, while Broussard reprises his next-level adorable act to winning effect.

In short, Happy Death Day 2U is an inventive and surprisingly moving sequel that’s consistently entertaining, thanks to a superb comic cast, Landon’s assured direction and a script that thinks outside the box. Side note: despite the comedy recap, it’s definitely worth watching (or rewatching) the original film before heading to the cinema.

*** 3/5

Happy Death Day 2U is in cinemas now.


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