Many famous film franchises have used a sequel to effectively switch genres. Alien is a horror film, while Aliens is a scary sci-fi actioner. The original Terminator is a sci-fi slasher, but T2 skews much more heavily into action. And the original Evil Dead is a horror classic, but Evil Dead 2 put the horror in the backseat in favor of a more comedic approach. Each of these sequels took first entries in a series and pointed them in a new, less horror-fueled direction. Happy Death Day 2U seeks to pull off a similar feat by shifting (and even retconning) Happy Death Day’s status as the horror’s Groundhog Day into sci-fi’s Groundhog Day.
What writer and director Christopher Landon seems to have not learned from history is that successful genre switches never fully abandon the core of the original. Landon appears eager to replace the horror lineage of the series with a rudimentary take on basic sci-fi tropes like time loops and parallel universes. In what may amount to a colossal misunderstanding of his audience, the goal of Happy Death Day 2U seems to be to provide an explanation for the mechanics of the first film’s central plot device. But did anyone actually walk away from Happy Death Day and say “that was a quirky fun horror movie, but I REALLY need to know the science behind how she wakes up on the same day every day?” I highly doubt it, but Landon seems completely preoccupied with this thought and the film suffers for it.
Jessica Rothe’s second stint as time-loop-prisoner Tree Gelbman is equal to, if not slightly better than, her first. While still balancing the comedic elements of the film with the more classic horror shriek moments, Rothe is given more opportunities to explore the sentimental side of her character. She is especially strong in a few emotionally poignant moments that are not normally found in movies of this ilk. It is safe to say that outside of Rothe, the rest of is straight from a casting call of extras and does not bring anything special to the film. Thus the burden of the film lies on Rothe’s shoulders and for what it is worth, she is up to the task.
Happy Death Day 2U went for broke and ended up, well, broken. It no doubt had a lot of fun in the process, and some viewers may embrace and even join in on the fun. But for those hoping for a film that adds a new layer to something they enjoyed, they could walk away feeling like victims of a classic bait-and-switch.