The original Happy Death Day was as if someone watched the middle part of Groundhog Day, specifically where Bill Murray tries to kill himself multiple times, and thought that was worth an entire film. And they were right! The original is smart, funny, and even has a few good thrills and surprises throw into the mix.
Happy Death Day 2U picks up literally where the last film left off with a new time loop focused on roommate Ryan from the original film. However, it’s not long before leading lady Tree (Jessica Rothe) from the first film finds herself back in the time hijinks. That’s a smart move, because she’s by far the best part of these films. Charming and winningly self-depreciating, she feels like a young actress with a big career ahead of her. With her back as the focus, the film takes on a sort of sci-fi vibe for the rest of the runtime.
Now, they’re not simply dealing with looping time, but multiple timelines where even the events of the first film have played out differently. They name check Back to the Future Part II, but really this has more in common with the recent Avengers: Endgame. It’s all admirably clever for a horror sequel, which usually simply repeat the first film beat for beat. The attempt at deconstructing the first film to some degree gave me a bit of a Scream 2 vibe, but this film simply never works as well as that classic. In its extensive efforts to set up its central gimmick, it loses any of the thrill of the original. Instead, it waffles back and forth between sci-fi movie of the week, and a slapstick comedy (though kudos for the skydiving scene, one of the genuine laughs in the film).
I wanted to like Happy Death Day 2U more than I actually could. It’s daring for a horror sequel and genuinely tries to do something new while expanding its mythology. Its ending goes steps further to expand it even further. Still, I was left feeling disconnected from a plot that was too busy and a cast of characters I mostly didn’t care about. Unlike its protagonist, this is a film more admirable than likable. Rewatch the original instead.