Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) thought she was good. After reliving Monday the 18th over and over again, she had succeeded in solving her murder at the hands of a baby-face masked killer. It turns out she was wrong.
The first Happy Death Day was a surprisingly enjoyable, playful slasher with a twist. It was a strong enough hit with audiences that we are now getting a trilogy. This sequel retains some of the key elements that made the first film good but often get bogged down by pushing its twisty plot into a convoluted territory and by pushing its humor into some occasionally silly places.
Tree finds herself stuck back in the original loop after a clever opening scene that sees Ryan (Phi Vu), her boyfriend's scientist roommate, opening a time loop. The loop Tree is caught in might be the same day but she is actually stuck in an alternative universe. Her new life allows the filmmakers here to switch up the roles of the original cast and bring back Tree's mother. This plotline allows for an emotional payoff from the first film that grounds Happy Death Day 2U.
Most horror sequels decide to up the kill count and gore. Happy Death Day 2U pulls an Alien/Aliens type genre switch. It downplays the horror and ups the sci-fi plotting. The first film openly referenced Groundhog Day. The sequel openly references Back to the Future 2. The filmmakers openly take from both films in an attempt to get some fresh material here. They don't really succeed in terms of the plot.
Where these films succeed is in Rothe's lead performance. She is funny, sincere and enjoyable as Tree. We care about her and want to see her get back to life. Director Christopher Landon gets some dark laughs here, especially as Tree has to die over and over again in new ways. It allows Rothe to really shine and prove she should be offered more lead performances. The supporting cast is all likable if less memorable. Together they form a motley crew of geeks that have to save the day.
There are some things that don't work here. The humor occasionally gets into slapstick territory, especially during a plan to steal something back. The heavy focus on the time loop plot means the pace suffers a bit. The first film was zippy but Happy Death Day 2U clunks along in its middle section.
Overall, this is an enjoyable sequel that pushes the first film into some clever new spaces. Rothe is the MVP of both films and is hopefully destined to become a big deal in the future. The mid-credits sequence sets up the third film in some ways that could be really fun. This film is good enough to make me intrigued to see where the next chapter goes.