Jessica Rothe in 2019's "Happy Death Day 2 U."

Happy Death Day 2 U October 30, 2019

DIRECTED BY

Christopher Landon

 

STARRING

Jessica Rothe

Israel Broussard

Suraj Sharma

Steve Zissis

 

RATED

PG-13

 

RELEASED IN

2019

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 37 Mins.

H

appy Death Day (2017) didn’t need a sequel. But neither did Scream (1996), and in Scream 2 (1997) we got a movie that had no right to be better than its predecessor but was anyway. The same goes for the funnier and I think smarter Happy Death Day 2 U (2019). This sequel does a pretty good job explaining what happened in its forebear through a winking paragraph or two of

exposition early on, but for the sake of a review a recap goes like this: In Happy Death Day, an acerbically funny college student named Tree (Jessica Rothe) lives the same day over and over again — just like in Groundhog Day (1993) — only instead of getting to sleep and then wake up to the same alarm and mostly innocuous plans for the day, she gets murdered at the end of the night. By the finale of Happy Death Day, all seemed well. After unmasking her killer, who donned a baby mask and a baggy black hoodie, and then offing them herself just to make sure they were really gone, it appeared that whatever curse had been thrust on Tree had been lifted.

 

At the beginning of Happy Death Day 2 U, which finds Tree happily in a relationship with her gangly love interest from the first film (Israel Broussard), someone might as well tell her flat out that it’s all too good to be true. During the first act of the movie, we discover that Tree’s hamster-wheeled nightmare wasn’t a case of flukey supernaturalism going awry. It was the result of a science experiment accounted for by a trio of quantum-physics students (Suraj Sharma, Phi Vu, and Sarah Yarkin). More specifically, it’s an effect of a reactor they've created you’d otherwise only see in a sci-fi comic. 

 

Because the designated "final girls" in horror movies never manage to have that easy a time in their movie’s sequel — see Adrienne King in Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), Sarah Michelle Gellar in The Grudge 2 (2006) — one cannot expect that Tree will get a hall pass for 2 U. Expectations are lived up to. I wondered if, had Tree been a fan of either Friday the 13th Part 2 or The Grudge 2, she’d prefer to have the fates of King or Gellar as opposed to the one she gets in her sequel. Because it’s arguably more of a bummer than simply being killed by a hockey-masked crank or a vengeful phantom after thinking you've escaped them. Tree wakes up and finds herself in the same predicament in which she was wrapped up in Happy Death Day, and not purely an updated version, either. It’s as if she never left the original “simulation,” or whatever one might call it.

 

2 U is hokier than its predecessor; it’s probably even wiser to call it more a sci-fi comedy than a horror comedy — much of its storyline is built on the remembering of formulae, and the existence of parallel universes. Adding insult to Tree’s familiar injury, when she wakes up she’s in a new world, essentially. Here, her materialistic nemesis (Rachel Matthews) is her best friend, the killer from the first film (Rachel Modine) is newly an ally, her boyfriend is in a relationship with the latter-mentioned enemy, and her tragically dead mother (Missy Yager) is now back alive and breathing in her life. Tree's living in what she learns is the world of Tree 2.0, or someone like that. She can tell just based on her iPhone’s photo library, which is filled with videos and snapshots she has no memory of taking. 

 

Not much changes (structually, I mean) in Happy Death Day 2 U as opposed to its predecessor. But with the conceit still vigorously stirred, there comes more room for the slapstick antics I thought were the best things about the first movie. This film also features a tuneful montage where Tree slowly make progress on getting to the bottom of her quandary — this one’s set to Paramore’s “Hard Times” — and this movie, too, has a lot of funny bits circling purely around Tree getting out of bed in the morning, ranging from steam-out-of-the-ear fuming to sardonic. I especially liked, in 2 U, how much goofier the renavigation of both established and new relationships became. Much of the feature resembles the episode of Seinfeld (1992-present) where the misanthropic gang met who appeared to be parallel-universe versions of themselves. Only the gag in the movie is that it’s only Tree who’s meeting the funhouse-mirrored people. The frights in the sequel are basically the same, but with both movies, it’s less the horror element that matters (though we do enjoy it) and more so the black comedy which buds from it.

 

The winning mixture of dark and funny was what made Happy Death Day mostly delectable; the same goes for its follow-up. But neither film would be as delightful without Rothe laying the foundation. I haven’t seen her in anything else — to date, the Happy movies have been her most accessible ventures — but in both films you’re immediately hit with the feeling you get when you’re watching someone whom you’re pretty positive is an all-out star and yearn for someone with industry power to think the same thing. Rothe is an able comedienne. But these cheeky movies, which require her to get gravely serious in spurts and also put her through the physical ringer, allow her to do a lot more than be cuttingly funny. She’s terrific. Happy Death Day 2 U, which I thought would be doomed by its almost too-meta case of déjà vu, fortunately doesn’t let her down. Now that I’ve seen Rothe die and come back to life with comical cyclicality, I can’t wait to see what else she can do. B+