I’ve talked about sequels and their effects of diminishing returns many times before. It’s rare that sequels are better than the original, but it does happen. What’s even more rare is when a sequel completely abandons the conventions and genre that was established before. Evil Dead II is one of my favorite films of all time and that’s because it’s a masterpiece of a horror comedy that wasn’t afraid to go completely silly and slapstick. It was the best thing for the series and it’s become iconic for its campiness and goofy performance from Bruce Campbell. Sometimes it’s good to shake things up a bit. 

In Happy Death Day 2U, Baylon University student Ryan Phan (Phi Vu) unfortunately finds himself murdered, but he’s not really dead, as he wakes up the next day perfectly fine. However, he’s murdered again, realizing he’s now caught in a time loop. He seeks the help Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe), who previously had herself stuck in a time loop of being murdered over and over again. So, it’s up to Tree and her friends to find out who the new masked killer is and escape the time loop for good. 

The main reason Happy Death Day didn’t really work for me was because it seemed like it didn’t know whether it wanted to be a horror or a comedy, constantly straddling that line throughout. The different tones didn’t really mesh for me, so when I saw the trailer for the sequel, I was happy to see it playing up the more comedic and farcical nature of it all. Yep, writer/director Christopher Landon decided to go full on comedy with this one and I couldn’t have been happier with his decision. I was consistently giggling and occasionally laughing out loud, but for all the right reasons. In fact, Landon practically abandons the horror elements all together and it becomes a whole mix of genres, even if it doesn’t completely work. 

Once the main plot really gets going, it basically stops being a slasher film and just becomes a sci-fi comedy in the vein of Back to the Future, albeit with a dark twist. It’s revealed early on that Tree’s fellow student Ryan and his fellow science class friends built a device that created the time loop she was in. This eventually leads to her ending up in an alternate reality where she’s no longer with her boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard), she’s now friends with her bully Danielle (Rachell Matthews), and a lot more. Landon plays around with the alternate timeline to both excellent comedic and dramatic effect, although he commits the cardinal sin again of referencing the movie that influenced this, like Back to the Future Part II. Still, it was a fun direction to take the sequel, especially since the horror elements fell flat for me last time. Instead of being murdered, Tree has to kill herself over and over, as her friends figure out how to get back to their timeline. The ways she commits suicide are consistently creative and humorous, but it did kind of go against the film’s logic. If she feels the pain from her injuries, why would she choose to do things like jump into a wood chipper? 

Just like last time, Jessica Rothe totally elevates and carries the film. She’s insanely charismatic, has snarky and peppy comic timing and delivery, and is also pretty cute. She doesn’t just get to have fun with the role, but gets to show some serious dramatic chops as well, and I mean serious. There’s a very emotional scene at the end of the film where she’s trying to not break down crying the entire time and she completely sells it, lip quivers and all. This all made her really easy to root for and she officially joins the likes of Laurie Strode, Ellen Ripley, Sidney Prescott, and Erin (You’re Next) as one of the all-time great slasher final girls. Rothe really is a special actress who deserves to have a successful career. Like I said, she really carries the film, as the rest of the acting ranges from serviceable to just downright terrible, although Broussard and Matthews were both well utilized and fun to watch. 

Because of the shoddy acting from almost everyone else and the overall cheap looking production values and cinematography, a lot of it feels like a schlocky teen movie… but again, I kind of liked that as it all feels completely intentional. The last half hour is complete schlock and pays off all of the final dramatic moments with a thick layer of delicious cheese. I was cackling with glee throughout the entire ending, and it was made even more perfect by the abrupt ending that felt plucked right from An American Werewolf in London. Even then, Landon still sticks the landing on the emotional beats of the ending, even if some of the character motivations and their decisions felt a bit forced and not fully developed. Also, Bear McCreary’s score was absolutely awful, being incredibly distracting and bringing down practically every scene with its generic and inconsistent melodies. 

While it’s nowhere near as good, Happy Death Day 2U is the new Evil Dead II in how it takes all of the best elements of the last film and turns them up tenfold, while also shifting genres. With another starmaking performance from Jessica Rothe, it’s incredibly funny and entertaining, with Landon smartly ditching the horror for full on comedy. With how it ended, I really don’t see where the concept can go from here, but Evil Dead II led to Ash ending up in the middle ages, so who knows? As long as Rothe comes back, I’ll be down to celebrate another Happy Death Day


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