Complete with an absurdly funny title and a crazy concept, 2017’s “Happy Death Day” was a nice little surprise. It was a waggish and off-beat horror movie that worked mainly due to it being both subversive and self-aware. It played around with several of the genre’s most familiar tropes and it did so with an ever-present tongue-in-cheek glee.
Now we get the inevitable sequel sporting an even more ridiculous title and taking the story to even more outlandish places. I say the sequel was inevitable because these meagerly budgeted horror films have proven to be a gold mine for producers like Jason Blum. The first film was made for under $5 million and made over $125 million at the box office alone. As I said, inevitable.
Jessica Rothe (now 31-years-old but still looking like a college student) returns to play Tree. The key piece from the first film, Rothe is asked to go even further here in terms of balancing the horror and comedy elements thrown at her. She’s still a lot of fun to watch and is more than able to do the heavy lifting which the movie desperately needs her to do at times.
Tree and her now boyfriend Carter (a returning Israel Broussard) set out to help fellow Bayfield University student Ryan (Phi Vu) who is caught in a time loop much like the one she encountered in the first film. They link Ryan’s situation back to a quantum physics experiment fired off by him and his fellow science geek buddies. They conclude that the only way to fix things is to reenact the experiment, but in doing so Tree finds herself pulled back into her own personal “Groundhog Day” time loop. The film quickly shifts to her as she tries to figure out her predicament.
Returning director Christopher Landon (who also writes the sequel) retains the original film’s playfulness while barely keeping it within its genre. It’s weird but this barely feels like a horror movie. There are a couple of jump scares and we’re reminded that you can chew up a lot of screen time by walking slowly down hallways or through darkened rooms. But that’s about it. You could try to fit it into the slasher sub-genre but even that feels like a stretch.
“Happy Death Day 2 U” ends up barely being a horror movie, kind of a comedy, and sort of science-fiction. Its story is goofy (I like to believe intentionally so) and I’m still trying to figure out what the heck actually happened in it. But here’s the funny thing, this peculiar mashup still manages to show its audience a good time. Rothe is an absolute blast. It has a specific story thread that is surprisingly touching. And the movie embraces its goofiness just enough to keep the whole thing afloat. It’s a movie so dependent on its central conceit that I’m not sure where it can possibly go next. But even though this is a pretty fun sequel, you get the feeling they need to come up with something new if they want to keep this series fresh.
VERDICT – 3 STARS