When we last saw Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) she was a sharp-tongued Bayfield University trapped in a time loop, forced to relive the day of her death again and again. As the main character of “Happy Death Day” she died over and over again, blossomed spiritually all while figuring out who her masked killer was.
In the beginning of the sequel, “Happy Death Day 2U,” Tree is back to normal. The “Groundhog Day” style murder and mayhem has stopped and she’s an everyday student who no longer has to live (and die) in fear.
At least that’s how it starts. Tree wakes up one morning to discover she’s back in the deadly twilight zone. This time is different, however. The loop seems to be caused by a time machine built by Ryan (Phil Vu), roommate to Tree’s inter-dimensional boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard). How does it work? Imagine a piece of paper folded into six equal squares and punch a hole through the middle. Unfold it. Six squares, six identical holes. That’s the multi-verse, Tree is the hole amid duplicate realities separated only by space and time.
The new loop sees Carter dating ultimate mean girl Danielle (an underused Rachel Matthews) and Tree’s deadly roommate Lori (Ruby Modine), now alive and no longer evil. The creepy killer is back but so is Tree’s late mother. “People say I Love you all the time,” Tree says, “but it was until you can’t say it to their face but you missed it.” Despite the masked killer mayhem Tree wants to stay stuck in the loop and foster a relationship with her mother, a situation that provides challenges for everyone. “I thought I could have it all but I couldn’t,” she says.
There are some movies where a sequel seems inevitable. They are stories that need a few extra acts to expand already interesting ideas and then there is “Happy Death Day.” The original was a tight slice of fantasy that mixed horror with humour to form a charming, complete package. The sequel takes the premise and the appealing actors from the first one and wastes them in an unnecessary follow-up that will only work if you’ve seen the original. Convoluted and not nearly as laugh-out-loud funny or as tense as the 2017 film, it zips along at the speed of light, piling twist on top of twist.
The idea of a multi-verse so articulately expressed in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is messy and drawn-out here, dumbed down to simple repetition rather than richly imagined varied splinters of the main story.
It’s a shame because the core cast, Rothe, Broussard and Vu, all have faces John Hughes would have loved and work hard to make sense of a story that meanders through time. At best “Happy Death Day 2U” makes you wish you could go back in time to experience the sugar rush of the first film again for the first time.