“Happy Death Day 2U” is everything a sequel shouldn’t be: bland, uninteresting, and with no plot of its own.
The film, written and directed by Christopher Landon, stars Jessica Rothe reprising her role as Theresa Gelbman, a college student who unwittingly gets locked into a time loop that resets every time she is killed by the infamous Babyface Killer. The film opens up with a loop sequence on her friend Ryan, but the focus quickly shifts back to Gelbman after a science-fiction style twist. After solving the murder of the first film, she is seemingly freed from the curse but gets thrown back into the mix after Ryan activates a machine designed to harness quantum energy. Through the events of this film, the audience learns that Ryan actually caused the events of the first film through a similar experiment.
It’s important to just come out and say it. The film is bad. It’s bad, but not in a “I disregard all caveats of filmmaking to make a garbage heap of terrible images” bad. It’s more in the style of “The writer-director doesn’t really understand good writing or good characterization” bad. The film plays out much like an uninspiring TV pilot. You get the “cold open,” a sequence designed to fake out the audience into thinking the film is about something else. You have the main characters introduced and supremely focused on (in this film, there’s only two that are focused on, even though there are at least five other characters that feature). You have a loosely held-together plot and then, you have the conclusion which happens around three times in a standard TV episode arc to mitigate commercial breaks. In a film format, this doesn’t do “Happy Death Day 2U” any favors.
Another issue that skewers the film is the casting. Jessica Rothe is clearly the most talented actress in the film. Her performance comes alive in a way that most of the other actors don’t seem to have. A lot of the acting is done in that caricatured version of theatrical acting where they overenunciate every syllable of a word or they act in a way that lends itself to the popular image of a stereotype, such as Ryan being a “total stoner” or the character Samar acting like his Indian heritage parents are going to disappointed in him for getting an above average grade rather than a superior grade. Rothe’s performance has vibrancy to it, but the other actors simply don’t have that spark that breathes life into a script.
Similarly, to the events of the film, the script tries to have its cake and eat it too, in a manner of speaking. Gelbman is forced to make a choice between staying in the new reality where her mother is now alive, but she is not in a relationship with her friend Carter or returning to her old reality where the opposite is true. She weighs the options and ultimately makes the right choice. The script’s sequence of events doesn’t make a lot of sense and it tries to genre-bend without giving way on one or the other. This creates a feeling of dissatisfaction with the overall plot and presentation of the story.
“Happy Death Day 2U” just falls flat. It doesn’t have anything interesting to say, and it feels like a cash grab based on the relative success of the first film. “Happy Death Day Day 2U” receives a C-minus rating.