And we don’t give a f*** it’s not your death day! After breaking free of the unexplained Groundhog Day-esque events in living and dying over and over repeatedly at the hands of the same killer on her birthday, it’s finally a happy day for college student Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe). She’s emerged from the fiasco with a renewed sense of character, and a new (old) boyfriend in the sweet, supportive Carter (Israel Broussard).
Unfortunately, there was a quantifiable reason that put Tree in the loop, and now, that reason has been revealed, yet again placing Tree in another endless born-day scenario where she must die over and over again. Easy-peezy, as she already knows who’s trying to kill her, right? Correct, except this time, the killer isn’t the same, and the order of events are not systematic. It’s Déjà new vu.
If Blumhouse Productions founder Jason Blum is to be believed, it’s not a matter of if his famed, turning-dimes-into dollars studio will eventually have a shared universe, but when. To avoid any spoilers, the sequel to the silly surprise hit Happy Death Day certainly sets up the prospect—seen in a mid credits scene—of being a linchpin in any future plans that connect Blumhouse features to one another. Slightly tweaking the formula in leaning into more science-fiction and dramedy elements while eschewing the horror, Happy Death Day 2U clears the low bar that most sequels struggle to hit.
Shot by director Christopher Landon, the 2017 predecessor got by on just about everything but horror; save for the initial 30-ish minutes. Pay no attention to the sort-of misleading trailers and television spots; “HDD2U” shares much more in common with Back to the Future and Weird Science than anything with a modicum of fright. And the self-awareness is kind of commendable. Granted, the sci-fi element and reason for things being and occurring how they do is flimsy to buy into at best. However, whereas other films might try and explain their flimsy exposition theory moment with another flimsy exposition theory moment that only makes it worse, Landon (who also writes here), is content with giving the idea without the messy details. It’s enough to get the story where it needs to be, and the story itself isn’t necessarily one a viewer is supposed to give a lot of thought to. With that said, a compelling direction is dropped that really could have pushed HHD2U fully into science-fiction mode.
Looking past all of that, there’s a reason this film is released around Valentine’s Day. Akin to Deadpool which similarly opened three years back on Valentine’s Day weekend, HDD2U is as much of a love story as it is any other genre tag it carries—and arguably, it is best as a romantic drama. The first film served as a light character study, looking at Tree and using her nightmare as an impetus for introspective character change and growth. It laid the groundwork for some of the questions the sequel asks and answers in surprisingly poignant scenes. Would it be fulfilling to live in a “perfect” life that isn’t yours? Do memories ever lose their power?
These two movies are pretty average at their cores. But, Rothe makes them low-key memorable. As great leading stars do, she elevates what she appears in and by proxy, elevates everyone who appears alongside her. Kind of like LeBron James…save for this year. Rothe superbly flits between physically hilarious comedic darkness (the standout death montage is amazing) and emotionally touching substance. If the Happy Death Day franchise has proved but one thing, it’s that Rothe can be a superstar. The chemistry possessed with Broussard is sweet and strong again. Supporting characters played by Phil Vu and Rachel Matthews give additional comic relief in spots being slightly beefed up in screen time this go-around. Nonetheless, everything revolves around Rothe, as it should.
Watch with the expectation of anything resembling a horror or thriller, and a viewer will be sorely disappointed. Watch with the mindset of a hybrid amalgamation of sci-fi, comedy, and romance, and Happy Death Day 2U is a light, enjoyable piece of funfetti cake.
Photo credits go to syfy.com, collider.com, and hollywoodreporter.com.
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