An inevitable yet staggeringly unnecessary follow-up to the surprise horror hit turns a nifty concept into an exhaustingly convoluted mess
While there were indisputable flaws in 2017’s gimmicky slasher revival Happy Death Day, it was hard to knock the film’s puppyish energy, earnestly zipping along with such speed that one almost forgot just how ramshackle its foundation was. The central premise, which saw a cynical college student trapped in a Groundhog Day-esque time loop of death, was spiky enough to lure its target demographic back to a subgenre they’d been ignoring for a solid decade, carving up an impressive $125m worldwide from a budget of less than $5m and making a sequel seem inevitable.
Less inevitable was just what form a sequel would take, and as the snappily titled Happy Death Day 2U begins, it appears that we’re stuck in another character’s death loop. This time, it’s the roommate of the guy who the heroine from the original almost slept with at the start and if that’s not enough to give you a headache then just wait for what comes after. It turns out that the time-loop of the original film, which saw Tree (an engaging Jessica Rothe) get repeatedly murdered, was the result of a campus-based science experiment gone horribly wrong, answering a question most of us were happy not to ask (did we need to know why Bill Murray was stuck in Punxsutawney?). Through a scrappy set of circumstances, this tech then results in Tree returning to her original death day, yet one within an alternate universe that requires her to not only find out who the new killer is but also figure out how to return home.
Despite the repetitive nature, and nifty conceit, of Happy Death Day, envisioning a sequel still felt like a stretch. After watching the follow-up, it would appear that the writers were feeling similarly stuck, its haphazard script reading like the result of a drunken wrap-party brainstorm, half-jotted on to a napkin. Initially it’s tempting to praise a certain level of unpredictable audacity with an opening that deliberately wrongfoots us and a Scooby Doo-esque goofiness that sees the writers go all in on a barmy new premise. But patience wears thin as plotting rapidly disintegrates, revealing a wildly convoluted mess, maniacally shifting tones and failing to provide any of the sleepover slasher pleasures of the original.