Parallel Deaths, Same Story

Happy Death Day 2U

Having watched the original Happy Death Day, the primary thought I had about a sequel was, "why?" Time loop stories do not inherently lend themselves to sequelized storytelling -- by their very nature they are their own built-in sequel with each loop a sequel to what preceded it. Plus, there's the simple fact that most time loop stories predicate their plot on the idea that some wrong has to be righted; by story's end the problem is solved and the hero (or heroine) has learned an important lesson, grown to be a better person. Sequelizing that would rob the original looped story of it's impact, robbing the hero's journey of its resolution.

Happy Death Day

I think that's the primary reason why most time loops don't have sequels. Although studios would love to sequelize their big hits, such that a VR video game sequel to Groundhog Day has been released (and ignored), these stories don't need sequels. The second you decide to put a hero back in a loop again, you've diluted the unique nature of their journey. It's just another adventure with the exact same stakes as before.

That's a hurdle new time loop sequel Happy Death Day 2U has to try and overcome and, at times, it shows knowing flashes that almost justify its creation. Unfortunately the film just can't quite bring it all together to really prove why it needs to exist. It is, really, another iteration on the same story, no matter what new elements the film tries to introduce to make the film feel like something fresh and different.

When we pick up with Tree (Jessica Rothe), it's the next day right after her loop from the previous film has just ended. As she and Carter (Israel Broussard) are hanging out in his dorm room, Carter's roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) barges in going on about how he's been suffering deja vu after he dreamed someone killed him. That sets off warning flags for Tree, naturally, so they all go exploring Ryan's lab on campus where he was just killed. That's when we find out all about Ryan's science project, the one he built with his buddies Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin) that manipulates time. Suddenly the events of the first film make sense: this device made a time loop accidentally and, for whatever reason, Tree was the one affected by it. Ryan decides that the best thing to do is run the machine again to shut down the time loop, but then the dean of the school barges in, screws with the device just as it's releasing its power, and everyone is thrown back by the blast.

That's when Tree wakes back up in Carter's bed at the start of her birthday once more. The loop has begun all over again... except some things are different. Her roommate actually likes her, for one (instead of trying to kill her like in the last movie), and all kinds of other little changes have occurred. Tree has apparently been zapped into an alternate reality, one where her new boyfriend is dating someone else and, also, where her mom is still alive. While Tree needs to figure out who the killer is this time around (since it's apparently someone new), she also has to decide between staying in this reality with her mom, or going back home to the relationship that's just started.

While Happy Death Day 2U plays around in the same multiverse of the original film, this time the movie ditches any thought towards being a horror movie. Start to finish this film feels much more like a college comedy, just one where there's a killer on the lose and the day keeps repeating. Honestly, this is a change for the better since the original film wasn't at all good at being a horror movie. It's better to go with what works than to keep trying something over and over (in a loop) that's failing.

This new version of the film works so well, once again, because of Rothe. She's the MVP, dancing her ways through danger and mayhem as navigates this new reality with its twists and turns. She's quite good at the physical comedy required for this role, and her comedic timing sells the one-liners and reaction shots as well. This movie wouldn't work anywhere near as well without her performance in the central role.

That said, many of the other characters aren't used anywhere near as well this time around. Carter, the romantic co-star of the first film, is downplayed a lot here due to the plot shoving him with a different person. Meanwhile, several new characters, from Ryan's two nerd friends to the dean, are brought in but not given very much in the way of character depth or interest. They're table settings, characters there to serve a job but not actually act like real people. More exploration of the side characters would have given this film some needed substance.

It's a real problem since we've already seen Tree wander her way through a time loop once before. This movie coasts by largely by repeating many of the same set-pieces and plot points (including a montage of her deaths and a point where her body has gotten so damaged she can't take it anymore). The only different between Tree's journey in this film and the previous one is that she's in a slightly different reality. The rest of it all plays out exactly the same. It's fun for a while to see the film navigate similar beats, but after a while you wish it would explore new ground.

That's where I thought the new characters would come in to play, but they're all wasted by this film. Even the starting setup, with Ryan having his own time loop (and, as soon revealed, a time-displaced doppelganger running around) is quickly ditched. If this film had been willing to explore multiple characters in their own time loops, or had Tree bouncing between different versions of the multiverse on a quest to get home, that could given the film some much-needed weight. Instead, the film settles for being a retread of the material, just funnier.

On its own, watched without first seeing the original film right beforehand, Happy Death Day 2U can be a fun little lark. It's amusing, well paced, with a charismatic lead in the center that can carry this film (and probably a lot more than she's given). It they happen to make a third one (please not Happy Death Day 3D) I hope they can find a way to explore new ideas and allow Rothe to really stretch her legs. This film coasts and the series can only do that for so long.