Happy Death Day 2U (Universal Pictures, PG-13)

Happy Death Day 2U takes place after the events of Happy Death Day (2017). Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) has broken the time loop that kept sending her back to the beginning of her birthday when a crazed killer stalked her. She has taken down the killer, her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine), and has started a relationship with her new beau Carter (Israel Broussard). But Carter’s roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) tells them something is happening: he keeps waking up at the beginning of the same day after being stalked and killed by someone in a baby mask, the same dilemma Tree faced in the first film. They find out Ryan and his friends created a machine that inadvertently created the time loop. The machine then malfunctions, creating a force that renders everyone unconscious. Tree wakes up on her birthday once again, stuck in the loop. But this time, things are different. Carter is now dating her sorority sister Danielle (Rachel Matthews), and her mother is alive once again. Plus, they are all being stalked by a new killer, one that is also after original killer Lori.

Writing that synopsis was tough. Trust me, there is no end to how out there and complicated this film is.

There is something kind of admirable about the lengths Happy Death Day 2U takes its genre-bending premise. For every bonkers twist, there’s an even crazier one ahead. This marriage of old-fashioned slasher schlock and time-twisting sci-fi is dumb, tonally confused, and wildly entertaining.

This film does retread a lot of the same beats as the first installment. Tree must die multiple times to achieve a certain goal. Heck, there are straight-up recreations of previous events. That can seem like a weakness. But, what sets this one apart from its predecessor is its deep dive into its sci-fi nature. The first film played with sci-fi elements in regard to the time loop, but that seemed more like a little twist on the slasher genre than a full-fledged exploration of time travel itself, with the murder mystery still front and center. Happy Death Day 2U is the opposite, as director/writer Christopher Landon dedicates a good portion of the film to explaining the time loop and figuring out how it works in this universe. Sometimes the slasher part of this film seems like an afterthought, which will probably come as a disappointment to genre lovers. The film has its standard slasher moments, where people walk around empty hallways with a weapon in hand before the killer jumps out. It provides the standard jump scares, and Bear McCreary’s score telegraphs all of this. The score is sometimes so sincere and symphonic for a slasher that it can almost feel like a parody.

All is forgiven, however, thanks to the film’s ability to go crazy and provide the viewer with a good time. There are even more creative ways Tree dies that are a total blast. This film has another death montage, but this time set to Paramore’s “Hard Times.” It is so insane, and I love it. It’s still quite funny, and the chase and fight scenes are also entertaining.

The one factor that really elevates this silly material is Jessica Rothe. She can deliver a good one-liner, but also sell the heroic and emotional nature of her character, and is so engaging that she makes every other character seem bland by comparison. Rothe is a true talent that I cannot wait to see more of.

If I have a major criticism, it’s that the final act takes its twists and turns to such extremes that it becomes doltish. Plus, the final act has some scenes set to McCreary’s swelling music that feel so tonally muddled. It’s unclear if these are knowing, or if they are sincere.

Your enjoyment of Happy Death Day 2U will depend on how accepting you are of its embrace of its science-fiction elements. If you are looking for a scary slasher flick, you may want to look elsewhere. There’s not a lot of suspense, and it is still PG-13, so the blood is minimal. I almost think that it is not even trying to be scary. But, if you are looking for a crazy hybrid of two genres that goes all-out on the insanity, by all means, see this. Happy Death Day 2U is a ton of fun. | Bill Loellke

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