The Funniest Time-Loop Movie of the Century Turned a Gimmick Into Its Strength

It’s been five years, but horror fans are still clamoring for a follow-up to this 2019 sequel.

Israel Broussard and Jessica Rothe in 'Happy Death Day 2U'
Universal Pictures
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“More of the same, but bigger.” That seems to be the guiding principle behind most of the sequels that are made in Hollywood. Unfortunately, bigger isn’t always better, and far too many sequels mistake throwing more visual effects, set pieces, and twists at viewers as offering them a more expansive experience. The best sequels are, in fact, the ones that know that the best way to go bigger is to go deeper into the stories and themes of their predecessors.

That’s exactly what Happy Death Day 2U does. A sequel to 2017’s Happy Death Day, the thriller is funnier and more emotionally engaging than its parent film. The original Happy Death Day is good, but it always evokes the feeling that it was greenlit purely on the strength of its high-concept pitch (“Groundhog Day meets Scream”). The same isn’t true of Happy Death Day 2U, which refuses to solely recycle the time-loop plot of its predecessor. It adds sci-fi layers to its story and dives deeper into both the rules of its world and the inner emotional life of its protagonist.

The underrated sequel does all of that while delivering even more jump scares and gruesome deaths than Happy Death Day fans likely went into it expecting. Five years later, the film is noteworthy not only because of its quality but also because of how satisfyingly it builds on what came before it.

Happy Death Day 2U catches up with Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) as she’s in the midst of enjoying her post-time-loop life. Her entire, already not normal existence is shaken up, however, when a close encounter with a quantum reactor (yes, you read that correctly) sends her into a new time loop and traps her in an alternate reality. Her cross-dimensional mishap strands Tree in a new reality where she, unfortunately, doesn’t know the identities of her masked killers. The film’s sci-fi twist, in other words, gives it the chance to both reuse and reinvent the structure of the original Happy Death Day.

The sequel isn’t just a greatest-hits compilation, though. The abrupt introduction of a quantum reactor allows Happy Death Day 2U to cheekily explain how Tree got stuck in a time loop in the first place and engage in the kind of sci-fi antics that its predecessor never could. The film doesn’t let the opportunity to go to even wilder places pass it by, either.

It tonally addresses its comically underbaked sci-fi subplot by delivering even more outrageous deaths and moments of pure, tongue-in-cheek humor than its franchise’s first installment. At one point, Rothe’s Tree jumps out of a plane wearing nothing but a bikini and tube socks while Paramore’s “Hard Times” plays. In the same montage, she dives headfirst into a woodchipper.

Impressively, Happy Death Day 2U does more than just go to even broader and weirder places than its parent film. It also uses its multiversal twist to further explore Tree’s grief over her mother’s death. That plot point is first introduced in 2017’s Happy Death Day, but its sequel makes far better use of it. Following her multiversal hop, Tree discovers that she’s ended up stranded in a universe where her mother is still alive. That reveal forces her to choose between returning to her original reality and staying in the one she’s found herself in, and Happy Death Day 2U mines some shockingly moving moments out of that dramatic conflict.

Happy Death Day 2U is one of the most inventive and playful horror comedies of the 2010s.

Universal Pictures

When Happy Death Day hit theaters in 2017, few could have predicted that it would spawn a sci-fi horror sequel that is more absurd, winking, and moving than it. Thanks in no small part to Jessica Rothe’s endlessly entertaining, screwball central performance, though, the two films make up one of the most underrated horror comedy franchises of the past decade. Rather than wearing out its welcome, Happy Death Day 2U proved that the series could grow beyond its initial, logline-based origins, too.

Five years later, fans are still asking for a follow-up. If that doesn’t prove just how successful of a sequel Happy Death Day 2U is, then nothing does.

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