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Film Review: Happy Death Day 2U and the Originality of Unoriginality

Written by: Hannah Tran | February 23rd, 2019


Happy Death Day 2U (Christopher Landon) 3½ out of 4 stars

The first Happy Death Day was often described as “Groundhog’s Day meets Scream.” This one tones down the Scream, turns up the Groundhog’s Day, and adds a new layer of sci-fi edge just to keep things fresh. After Tree Gelbman, college sorority girl, escapes the endless loop of reliving her murderous birthday, she is introduced to the reason why it was happening in the first place: a science project by fellow students looking to marginally slow down time. After a failed attempt to destroy the project, Tree is sent to a parallel universe in which she must relive it all over again, except this time, everything is a little different. Tree enlists the help of her new friends to end the cycle once and for all, still unsure of whether she prefers this dimension or her own.

Like its predecessor, the unique setup perfectly masters the formula of ultra-patterned, crowd-pleasing fun, setting up an easy rhythm of warm-hearted comedy and homicidal hijinks. At its heart, the Happy Death Day franchise plays in to the first part of the equation more, creating genuinely funny situations and allowing its audience to give themselves into the full-bodied narrative and characters a bit more than they would in a straight-shooting horror.

Tree Gelbman is an instantly recognizable stereotype, one so usually unlikable in real life but so infinitely likeable here. Her seemingly basic character setup is given new depth with her own relatable imperfections and the genuinely sweet love she has for her mother.

A strange twist of fate comes close to turning Tree’s story into a near-heist film but unfortunately feels like a distracting tangent to the central narrative. While intended to heighten the suspense of the ultimate finale, it also works to deflate this by dragging it out. The heavy-handed motivation behind Tree’s ultimate decision is guilty of the same. The more they try to convince us why she must choose one fate over the other the less we buy into it.

"Babyface" and Tree (Jessica Rothe) in "Happy Death Day 2U," written and directed by Christopher Landon.
“Babyface” and Tree (Jessica Rothe) in “Happy Death Day 2U,” written and directed by Christopher Landon.

The virtue of Happy Death Day, however, is that it aims to take the tropes and thrills and characters that you’re already familiar with and provides them with unexpected layers while never sacrificing the reason why they’re so popular in the first place. It caters directly to the part of us that yearns to feel something when at the movies, prioritizing mindless excitement over moody intellectualism. It has the aesthetics of your average forgettable 2007 horror flick because it knows that there’s something there that works and, moreover, something there that the type of person who isn’t going to the movies anymore is missing.


Hannah Tran is a film critic and filmmaker from Las Vegas, Nevada. Hannah works as a film screener for the Las Vegas Film Festival and publishes an independent zine focused on highlighing Asian American filmmaking.

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