Sky high ambition turns out an admirable failure in this sequel to 2017 comic horror hit Happy Death Day. Christopher B. Landon returns as writer and director of the film, which knowingly adds Back to the Future II to its roster of influences. While, there’s still much to enjoy here, Landon’s script feels too overcooked and underdeveloped to truly stir engagement . You can’t fault him for trying though, especially with left turns this bonkers.
A re-watch of the original Happy Death Day is advisable prior to entering its follow up. Whilst Jessica Rothe – winning, once again, as post-modern ‘scream-queen’ Tree – delivers a snappy recap early in the film, the bombardment of continuity dumped on audiences in the opening act is suffocating. It’s not the Groundhog Day inspired structure that bamboozles but the wealth of supporting characters and plot diversions that Landon expects us to remember from last time. Every major to minor detail – from Tree’s late mother to her frenemy housemate’s obsession with house meetings – is brought chaotically back into play, alongside relationship dynamics between characters you almost certainly forgot existed. It doesn’t help that Tree alone is gifted a unique vocal register. Beyond Rothe, few stand out.
After a one-line (over and over) bit-part last time, Phi Vu’s Ryan, roommate of Tree’s boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard), is promoted to heightened significance in the sequel, albeit in such a way as to suggest that he was always hugely important. Diving headfirst into science-fiction overload, Landon offers explanation as to how Tree’s time loop came into being. As it transpires, it was Ryan’s quantum – baby – science project that fractured the universe and – wait for it – it’s about to do so again.
Except, there’s a twist. A deceptively familiar opening might suggest more of the same but don’t be fooled. It’s not long before Landon unveils a series of tricksy twists, most notably that Ryan’s quantum – baby – whatsit lists trans-dimensional travel among its capabilities. A faulty coding and flash of blue later and Tree is back in the original loop, once again re-living her birthday and winding up dead by the stroke of midnight. Only, this time, the loop is happening in a different dimension. There, Tree’s mother isn’t dead but Carter doesn’t love her.
Caught in the throng of his time-bending antics, Landon seems rather to abandon the film’s slasher rooting. Certainly, large swathes of the film contain little or no mention of Tree’s baby-faced, would be assassin, with her increasingly creative – perhaps tasteless – suicides replacing successive knives to her chest for the sake of ironic dignity. While this means that Happy Death Day 2U is lighter and funnier than its predecessor, the problem is that it is also many times more complicated. Ill-conceived and chasmic plot holes erupt through each high-concept layer and distract. This is a film in which ten seconds can last several minutes and where outlandish interactions can present as totally normal. Too few characters behave as any rational human being might and Landon’s parallel dimension spectacularly fails to stand up to scrutiny. None of this would matter if the film’s garbled pseudo-science weren’t so distracting. It just does not work.
In an odd way, despite its blatant faults, Happy Death Day 2U just about manages to achieve geniality enough to gift it casual watchability. Largely this is down to Rothe but it would be wrong not to credit Landon for the jokes that do land and the laudable emotional currents he weaves through the tale. A third in the series seems inevitable but Landon should take care not to alienate the general viewer with further franchise complexity.