On Halloween of 2017, one brave movie asked a question that could change slashers forever: instead of watching a killer stab people to death over and over, what if we watched a killer stab the same person to death over and over? And so Happy Death Day took the time loop concept from Groundhog Day and applied it to a horror/comedy, succeeding at neither genre. Well, you know what they say: if at first you don’t succeed, wait for time to rewind so you can try, try again.
That’s basically the plot of the first Happy Death Day. After a night of partying, college student Tree Gelbman wakes up hungover in her classmate’s dorm, kicking off a terrible birthday. But it gets worse: that night, a psycho in a baby mask murders her, and she wakes up in her classmate’s dorm on the morning of her birthday again. Rinse and repeat until she discovers the identity of her killer and learns to become a better person. That’s why her name is Tree—trees grow, like she needs to do. I wish that were a joke and not actual rationale from the movie’s screenwriter.
Happy Death Day never explained why time started misbehaving, but sequel Happy Death Day 2U is happy to do so in its first ten minutes. True to the first movie’s persistent lack of quality writing, the explanation doesn’t amount to anything more than “well whaddya know, our science project accidentally manipulates time and sends people into parallel dimensions!” Such an incompetent setup doesn’t inspire confidence that 2U will improve upon its predecessor, but some things are better this time around: the direction is cleaner and Jessica Rothe’s lead performance has markedly improved. That’s about it.
2U should’ve had a significant advantage over Happy Death Day. The original wasn’t funny or scary, so it leaned into its mystery/thriller aspects—but it wasn’t mysterious or thrilling because it didn’t build any expectations to upend. Time was looping for no reason and none of the characters were developed enough to have sensible motivations, so anything could happen and anyone could be the killer for any reason. It’s hard to twist the plot when the plot is already moving in every possible direction. 2U has the foundation of the first film, though: now there are expectations for how a Happy Death Day movie should work. There are rules to break. But alas, 2U just throws out its own rulebook, immediately returning to the comfort zone of making no sense from beginning to end.
Over and over again, Happy Death Day 2U builds up internal logic only to ignore it for a joke or a twist, which might be more insulting than having no internal logic at all. Characters toss science-y words around to explain the time breaking and dimension hopping, but at some point, even the fake math stops governing how it all works. The lead scientist alternates between knowing nothing about his experiment to knowing everything about it, depending on how the plot needs to move forward. The characters treat simple thoughts like profound realizations—which makes sense, come to think of it, since none of them seem to have a functioning human brain.
The screenplay isn’t just preposterous; it’s broken. The emotional core of the movie centers on a romantic relationship that—according to the timeline of the Happy Death Day universe (shudder)—has existed for less than 24 hours. At least the movie emphasizes that Tree’s romantic interest meets the high bar of not assaulting her when she was asleep. 2U fancies itself a feminist film, but there are at least three jokes that boil down to “women are dumb, ha ha”. Even worse, a female character is gleefully punished for cheating, while a male character’s potential infidelity is brought up and then completely glossed over.
Like the original, a large chunk of 2U’s story happens during a montage to a contemporary pop song, and even this is done badly. The song used is a Paramore tune about struggling with depression, and the montage is a series of suicides played for comedy. How unbelievably tone deaf.
Perhaps the moviewent tone deaf because too many tones were blaring in its ear. Happy Death Day 2U is a mashup of comedy, drama, horror, thriller, mystery, sci-fi, and romance, and it swings between these genres wildly—usually with a ridiculous musical gesture. It’s a comedy and the music is goofy, suddenly it’s a romance and the music is passionate, suddenly it’s a thriller and the music is intense, suddenly it’s a drama and the music is… you get it. The tonal shifts will give you so much whiplash that your neck will break, and hopefully—if you’re lucky—you’ll wake up in a dimension where the Happy Death Day movies never happened.