Happy Death Day was a pleasant surprise for horror fans and critics who have long awaited a satirical slasher horror that can capture the magic of Wes Craven’s, Scream. Scream was the last slasher horror in recent memory to successfully embrace the tropes of a slasher movie, satirize it, and be genuinely entertaining. Happy Death Day is very much in the same vein, but director/writer Christopher Landon takes it up a notch with some fun genre-bending.
A quick recap: In the first film, a hungover Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) wakes up on her birthday (Monday, September the 18th), in Carter Davis’ (Israel Broussard) dorm room and goes through her day as an incredibly unlikable sorority girl. When she is en-route to her surprise birthday party that night, she is intercepted by a killer in a baby mask. Tree dies and wakes up again in Carter’s room, thus starting an endless loop that can only be broken when she finds and stops her killer. The movie ended with Tree triumphantly foiling her killer’s plan and living to see another day.
The sequel picks up where it left off, but from Carter’s roommate’s point of view. Ryan Phan (Phi Vu) wakes up on Tuesday the 19th in his car after being ousted by Carter and Tree again. He makes his way to his dorm room where he interrupts Tree and Carter making out. He is dismissed and he makes his way to his lab to work on his scientific thesis, and we meet his co-workers, Samar Ghosh (Suraj Sharma) and Dre Morgan (Sarah Yarkin). It is revealed that Ryan is responsible for unintentionally creating the loop Tree was stuck in the day before. Things become strange when Ryan starts receiving threatening texts which lead him to be killed by someone dressed exactly as Tree’s killer. Ryan then finds himself in his own loop and Tree is the only one who can help him get out, but it is Tree who will have to make sacrifices to free them both and save all their friends.
It would have been nice to sit with Ryan’s loop longer than we did, as his perspective offered many interesting details to the loop. Perhaps, a third instalment could delve into that further, as it is revealed in the movie there is the possibility of exploring different dimensions. And, another instalment could explain some confusing details regarding the two loops. For instance, Ryan’s loop begins the day after Tree’s, but certain elements are the exact same from Tree’s the day before, such as: the girl with her petition to save-the-world, and the dude who gets shouted at for playing the trombone in the hallway. There is also the matter of what the heck is going on with Ryan’s killer (if you saw the trailer you know who it is). Multiple viewings could either reveal more plot holes, or insights into the trippy nature of the space-time continuum and another instalment could help.
Another benefit of staying with Ryan is spending more time with his friends Samar and Dre who are delightful, but underused. Perhaps more time spent with them would give us a much-needed break from the incredibly offensive Danielle (Rachel Matthews), who may be the movie’s Achilles heel. Like I said earlier, another instalment could make up for that.
Happy Death Day was firmly in the slasher horror camp, but the sequel takes a swing into sci-fi territory and focuses on the absurdity of Tree’s situation. The first film had plenty of laughs as we watched Tree try to overcome the many traps her killer lays out for her, and Happy Death Day 2U does nearly the same, with minor adjustments. The sequel in many ways is asking the audience to take a leap of faith with this blossoming series, as it fuses genres and evolves into something unique. The most reassuring argument to just go with this series is the talented people behind, and in front of the camera.
Much credit to Christopher Landon for taking recognizable tropes and situations in classic slasher movies and making it his own (just as Wes Craven did with Scream). The dark comedy and genre-bending make Happy Death Day stand-out from the genre. However, the biggest star and draw of this series would have to be new scream queen Jessica Rothe who is tasked with the impossible, and delivers. If it wasn’t the case before, this latest instalment should certainly earn her a spot in the scream queen pantheon.
Rothe proved her ability to play the snarky, vulnerable, scared, funny and fierce Tree in the first film. She and Landon created a dynamic heroine who was a fully realized individual with a satisfying character arch. Tree’s journey began with her coming to terms with her nasty behaviour and becoming strong enough to cheat death. In the sequel, she is faced with a genuine crisis when she is thrown into another loop, with drastically different variables that have emotional consequences. In the sequel, Rothe is tasked with more emotionally heavy material and is just as impressive walking us through Tree’s dilemma. Genre films like this live or die by their leading talent, and luckily for Happy Death Day and Landon, there is a genuine star at the center who does exactly what is expected of her and so much more.
Happy Death Day 2U may be releasing on Valentine’s Day, but it is perfect for any occasion. It is a fun slasher horror movie, a trippy sci-fi, a romantic comedy, and a heartbreaking drama. It is a genre-defying thrill ride that will have you gasping and laughing from beginning to end. It is an impressively crafted movie from Christopher Landon and anchored by star, Jessica Rothe. Hopefully, this will not be the last time we see Tree Gelbman, the time-travelling scream queen.
Happy Death Day 2U hits theaters on February 13!