Shame on me for assuming that, like most sequels, Happy Death Day 2U (2019) was going to be bad. What is even more remarkable is that it is just as good as its predecessor, 2017’s Happy Death Day, while also explaining something about the first that went by the board. In the original, we never learn why it is that Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) is forced to repeatedly relive the same grim day that ends with her murder. There is some vague reference about it being her birthday, and what a nice way to celebrate, but nothing concrete. Despite this missing bit of knowledge, I give the film a pass because it has so much fun with the concept with which it is working. What Happy Death Day 2U does well, unlike so many other follow-ups to hit movies, is that it perfectly walks the line between cluing you in as to missing aspects of the first without overdoing it, or more importantly, losing its heart. And the sequel pulls it off by presenting a pretty similar movie as before, though with enough difference to make it stand alone. To top it all, this is now two slasher movies this Catholic reviewer has enjoyed.
Happy Death Day 2U begins where Happy Death Day ends. However, this time we focus on Carter Davis’ (Israel Broussard) roommate Ryan Phan (Phi Vu) at the outset, the pair that share the dorm room in which Tree had been waking up on the same day on replay in the last film. Because Carter had been kicking Ryan out to have alone time with Tree, we see Ryan groggily emerge from his trash ridden car the next morning after Tree’s triumph. He walks back to his dorm, seeing a number of college oddities on the campus of Bayfield University, before he gets to his dorm to find Carter and Tree mid-embrace. He is told, again, to leave. Resigned, he heads to his science lab where he meets with his classmates Dre Morgan (Sarah Yarkin) and Samar Ghosh (Suraj Sharma) with which he is collaborating on a quantum reactor. They are panicked because Dean Bronson (Steve Zissis) is coming to terminate their work, the result of a number of strange occurrences on campus since they began their experiments. After Dean Bronson leaves, Ryan receives a strange text of a picture of himself taken from somewhere down the hall. When he goes to investigate, he is murdered by the same baby masked killer as in the first movie . . . only to awaken once more in his car. When he walks through the same sequence he had seemingly lived only hours ago and arrives in his room, the strange look on his face gives Carter and Tree pause. Ryan admits that he is having déjà vu, and Tree immediately knows what is going on, having lived it the previous day. Along with Carter, she accompanies Ryan to the lab, but they find nothing. Believing that the best strategy is to remain in public, they decide to attend the school’s basketball game. After it, Ryan is separated from Carter and Tree, and it is then that the baby masked killer finds him. Fortunately, Tree is able to knock out the would-be murder before he can perform the deadly deed. They remove the mask, and discover that it is Ryan. Confused, this extra Ryan is brought to the lab where he claims that he is from another dimension, and he is there because of his own machine. Now scared even more than what he had been while under attack, this dimension’s Ryan fires up the machine once more, which sends out a pulse of blue energy that knocks everyone backwards. When Tree comes to, she is in Carter’s bed, and her phone rings with a birthday tone, meaning she has been returned to the previous day she was forced to repeat in the previous film. Angered, she goes through the familiar steps, calling Ryan into the room to explain why she should not be there, and blaming him for the predicament. As she begins to run through the routine of the day, she notices that a few things are different. Carter seems to know her, her sorority roommate Lori Spengler (Ruby Modine) is not trying to kill her with a poisoned cupcake, and her sorority chapter leader Danielle Bouseman (Rachel Matthews) is not as mean as usual. These are not the only revelations. First, to her disappointment, Carter is dating Danielle, which is how they appear to be acquainted. The biggest one of all, though, is the fact that in this dimension, her mother Julie (Missy Yager) is alive. This comes when she meets up with her father, David (Jason Bayle), for her birthday lunch. As she recovers from the shock of seeing her dead mother, she also realizes that she can stop others from dying. In order to do so, she goes to the hospital on campus where famed serial killer John Tombs (Rob Mello) is being treated, thinking she can save the security guard from getting knifed. Unfortunately, it looks as if she is too late, and is chased off the roof of the hospital, only to reawaken back in Carter’s bed. Enraged, she goes to Ryan’s team and demand that they come up with a solution to get her to her own dimension. Ryan and the others say that it can be done, but that they would need weeks of testing, time that Tree does not possess. Carter comes up with a solution, though, saying that she could memorize the algorithms as they come up with them, thereby crossing them off until they found the right one. And to avoid a gruesome murder over and over, they tell her to commit suicide instead. Along the way, she begins to feel like maybe she does not want to return to her own plane of reality because in this one she gets to have her mother. What convinces her, though, is seeing her mom and dad, and realizing that she is in love with Carter and that is the future. However, before they can use the machine to fulfill its purpose, Dean Bronson confiscates it, forcing them to come up with an elaborate plan to steal it back. While they do so, Tree goes to the hospital where she hopes to stop this dimension’s Lori from being murder. She is successful, with Carter’s help, and with Dean Bronson and campus security guards pushing into the lab, Ryan is able to successfully use his machine to put everything right. When Tree stirs, she is back in the lab with Carter where she had left.
I do not love the fact that they opted for suicide in Happy Death Day 2U, no matter how imaginative they got with the ways Tree offed herself. Suicide of any kind, assisted or otherwise, is not in keeping with Catholic teaching. You can deal with murder in such settings a little better because the victim is not choosing death. Human life in all its forms should be protected, the gift appreciated, and it should not be ended prematurely. Nonetheless, one can kind of understand what is going on here because she knows that she will wake up again right away after the temporary pain. Further, I will give the movie credit for suggesting there is a limit to what the body can take in terms of repeatedly dying. Any ill will garnered from the suicide loop is repaid several fold by the heart in the movie. You chuckle somewhat at the creative ways they come up with for Tree to die, but it is in her relationship with her mother that makes the film is special. It is set up well in the first movie, with much of Tree’s aberrant behavior being caused by the death of her mother. Hence, when she sees mom for the first time in years, the wave of emotion is genuine. It also provides real tension in the movie, and that is whether Tree will choose Carter or mom. Her mind is helped by Julie when she tells her daughter why she chose her father. In talking about David, Julie explains that it is about letting go of the past, about which there is nothing one can do, and moving forward by making peace with what has passed. Of course, Julie is speaking in general, but Tree understands it in regards to her own life. As such, she is able to say goodbye to her mother, something she was able to do before, and get on with living. This is something God calls us to do as well. Like the lesson spoken by Julie in the movie, God is in the present, and he is beckoning us forward.
Now that I have seen Happy Death Day 2U, I sincerely hope they do not make a third part. That seems unlikely as they have been made for peanuts and have grossed a ton of money for their respective studios, and deservedly so. Admittedly, I say this as someone who remains skeptical of sequels in general, present film excluded. If only they could all be as good as this one. As before, be warned of a bit of inappropriate material, though toned done somewhat from its predecessor. As such, it gets my recommendation.