The original Happy Death Day was a pleasant surprise, a rather gleeful and somewhat perversely enjoyable Groundhog Day riff set in the world of PG-13 horror and produced by the folks who would know how to produce such an effort - Blumhouse Productions. The nearly $5 million motion picture grossed just over $55 million in the United States alone and right around $125 million worldwide.
So, um, yeah. There was never any doubt that a new mini-franchise had been born.
Blumhouse is back along with director Christopher B. Landon, who also pens this second effort, for Happy Death Day 2U, an inevitable sequel that never really feels completely inevitable and manages to be both somewhat inventive and loyal to what made the first film an unexpected hit.
In the original film, Jessica Rothe gave a breakout performance as Tree Gelbman, a rather bitchy sorority girl who discovers she is stuck in a relentless time-loop after being brutally murdered by a babyfaced killer. The film toyed with audiences in playfully horrific ways, being more darkly comical than an outright slasher flick while benefiting greatly from Rothe's surprisingly layered, complex, and emotionally honest performance.
The film closed things up in a way that both satisfied yet pretty clearly left things wide open.
This time around, Happy Death Day 2U picks up a new protagonist, Phi Vu's Ryan returning from the first film and the roommate to Tree's boyfriend.
You can probably see, at least modestly, where this is going, though Happy Death Day 2U gets way more complex than it needs to get in trying to explain the whole affair. Suffice it to say that a certain ill-fated boyfriend's roommate leads the way for Tree to get stuck back in same time loop, though to be sure Landon's script tosses in a few twists and turns along the way.
It's safe to say that Happy Death Day 2U is the same but different.
Blessed with a still modest $9 million budget this time around, Happy Death Day 2U benefits from the return of a good majority of the key players and a surprising number of even the more bit players. Tree's overly understanding boyfriend, Carter (Israel Broussard), is back along with Tree's still troubled roommate (Ruby Modine).
Rothe is once again the shining star, a now more self-assured heroic figure who lives into her character with even more layers and more complexity than she had in the first film and with an emotional resonance that turns Happy Death Day 2U into a surprisingly sympathetic and, I'd dare say, heartfelt experience. Happy Death Day 2U is even funnier this time around, its darkly comical glee occasionally a bit overwhelming yet so evenly toned throughout the film that it's doubtful you'll mind much unless you're a gore-hound who accidentally stumbled into a PG-13 rated horror film.
Gory Happy Death Day 2U is not.
While it's not particularly necessary to see Happy Death Day before catching this film, it unquestionably helps to be familiar with the characters. Happy Death Day 2U serves up enough twists that it's never completely the film that you're expecting and that makes the experience all that more fun throughout the 100-minute film.
I suspect that Happy Death Day 2U is destined to be at least enough of a hit to justify a continuation of the franchise, a franchise that certainly hasn't worn out its welcome here and should be quite the pleasant diversion during this overly serious awards season. Landon takes some risks, though I suppose with a modest budget of only $9 million there's room to play around the concept without fearing too much of a loss.
Occasionally frightful, frequently funny, and fearlessly enjoyable even when it's overly bogged down with exposition, Happy Death Day 2U may lack the freshness and original voice of its predecessor but it very nearly makes up for all that with its terrific, charismatic cast and ridiculously goofy fun.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic