The premise of 2017’s Happy Death Day is a perfect elevator pitch: What if Groundhog Day were a horror film? Theresa (Jessica Rothe) wakes up in a college dorm room, goes through her routine, and then dies at the hands of a masked serial killer, becoming the first murder victim of the movie. Except when she dies, she wakes up back in that dorm, at the start of the day again, doomed to relive the experience but, perhaps, given the power to solve the mystery. The movie’s cutesy log line belies a clever undermining of genre conventions. Theresa (nicknamed “Tree”) is very much a horror-film trope, the first casualty in a slasher flick, the character who exists only to die and to raise the narrative stakes for everyone else. In Happy Death Day, though, the action stays with her. And because of that, she eventually gets to become the hero.
Christopher Landon’s film was a classic Blumhouse surprise—a disposable-seeming, low-budget entry from the horror-centric production company that turned out to be a rather subversive piece of work. Its sequel, Happy Death Day 2U, faces a new challenge, however. It’s armed with a cute title, but how can it recycle a story concept that is itself about recycling, about living the same day over and over? For Landon, who both wrote and directed this second entry, the answer is simple: Take the very idea of a horror sequel to its logical extreme, and make Tree literally relive the first movie, down to the wardrobes, the set dressings, the background characters—only this time equipped with the knowledge she gained from the original go-around.