Happy Death Day 2U must be given credit for how it meaningfully develops on the premise of its predecessor. Many slasher sequels settle for being an inferior rehash of the events seen in the first film and that certainly could have been the case here. In fact, the opening sting seems deliberately poised to show how bad things could have been, presenting a sequence highly derivative of one seen in the previous installment. Fortunately, it isn’t long before it sets off on a wildly different course.
Granted, the two films share a central plot thread: the predicament of college student Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe), who once again finds herself trapped within a deadly time loop and desperately seeking a way out. However, through the introduction of new characters, multiverse shenanigans and a tone that resembles farcical comedy closer than horror, Happy Death Day 2U manages to maintain a sense of novel unpredictability throughout.
It shouldn’t be understated how important Rothe is in achieving this impressive feat. Her energetic performance can’t quite match the acting force of Neve Campbell or Jamie Lee Curtis, but her comic timing is consistently strong and vitally important in defining this movie’s charming self-awareness. The so-called “final girl” trope has existed for about as long as the slasher genre has, but Tree feels like a genuine reinvention for the 21st century.
Choosing to bench her for the first fifteen minutes-or-so seems an unwise decision, as the film suffers when focused on secondary character Ryan Phan (portrayed amateurishly by Phi Vu). He is the weak link in a decent supporting cast, from which Israel Broussard and Rachel Matthews are the clear standouts.
Paranormal Activity alum Christopher Landon reprises directing duties and does reasonably well. He brings flair and fun to the more comedic sequences, particularly a grimly hilarious montage set to Paramore’s “Hard Times”, while his attempts at suspense are competently executed albeit nothing new. Unfortunately, he fails to hide the film’s clear lack of budget in numerous scenes, with a number of ugly shots sharing the same cheap feel of a $50 YouTube skit.
You have to go into Happy Death Day 2U with a willingness to surrender yourself to the absurdity. The wacky plot occasionally spells things out in condescending clarity and a handful of the jokes are unequivocal duds, but its captivating lead performance and playful creativity is more than enough to keep you onside.
TL;DR | Happy Death Day 2U is a confident sequel that expands on the premise of the original, delivering a flimsy-but-fun mystery with some good laughs and a dynamite lead.