Review by David Baldwin
It is the summer of 1978 at Camp Nightwing. The Shadysiders and the Sunnyvalers are at odds with each other as usual and are just about to start their annual Paint War tournament. As the campers are out having fun, the witch Sarah Fier has unwittingly possessed one of the camp counsellors. As bodies start to pile up, everyone must do what they can to survive the night.
It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that Fear Street Part Two: 1978 owes a lot to the Friday the 13th film series and countless other 1970s/1980s era slasher films. From the look and feel, to the ominous atmosphere and chilling soundtrack, right down to the horny and drug-obsessed counsellors, there is no stereotypical character or moment left unaddressed here. Well…maybe some midnight skinny-dipping. Beyond that, it will be incredibly challenging to miss checking off everything else you can think of from this immortal genre. Part Two wears all of its references and homages like a badge of honour and delights in putting the cast through hell as they avoid the killer’s ax. It knows what it is and does its very best to look radically different from its predecessor.
While the soundtrack’s needle drops are just as egregious and irritating as Part One (“Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Öyster Cult specifically feels a bit too on the nose), my main issue with Part Two is how by the numbers and bland it feels. It lacks the energy and the pulse of the first film and more importantly, lacks its compelling lead characters. I appreciated the film focusing on another strong female relationship – this time between sisters versus lovers – but did not really care about them or anyone else for that matter. The only interesting thing about any of them is how long they are able to survive before getting killed off, and rather sadly, even their deaths feel lackluster (mainly because they all take place in the dark, and some take place off-screen entirely to characters introduced three seconds prior). I wanted to cheer for the killer, yet he entirely lacked any form of a commanding presence. He’s a psycho with an ax. Nothing more, nothing less. Everything that happens with him and the rest of the cast just sort of…happens. It all feels overly choreographed with no room for fun or surprises (save for a switcheroo that you will likely see coming a mile away). The lack of creativity is stifling, and though there is still some gnarly violence on display in some sections, it feels toned down considerably from the first entry.
That said, I enjoyed the bookend scenes that continue the story started in 1994. I was riveted by Gillian Jacobs’ manic and paranoid performance as C. Berman and enjoyed the spunky, no-fucks-given attitude Sadie Sink (of Stranger Things) brought to Ziggy. I wish we could have seen even more from both performers. The film also does a good job of unpacking more details about Sarah Fier and the curse that plagues Shadyside. It mentions 1666 a few times, but does not hinge nearly as much of the story on the past as Part One constantly did. There are still some enigmatic moments and characters (alongside some questionable dangling plot threads I do not expect to be resolved), but the pieces of the puzzle I referenced last week do begin to come together throughout Part Two. That may very well be why the film feels so bland – it spends more time developing and explaining the curses than it does on the plight of the killer’s future victims. You will need to be the judge of whether that is a good thing or not.
Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is narratively dense and lacks the elements that made Part One such an enjoyably nostalgic treat. Jacobs and Sink are great in their roles, doing their very best to act around a narrative that does no one any favours. And though the film looks and feels every bit an homage to Friday the 13th and films of its ilk, its appearance can only aid the film for so long before you realize it is compensating for feeling so empty. I am excited to see how this series wraps up next week and have high hopes for this project to come together as cohesively as possible, but wish this film felt more substantial — instead of a glorified piece of filler you need to see in order to understand what comes next.
Fear Street Part Two: 1978 streams on Netflix starting Friday, July 9, 2021.
Be sure to return next week for the review of Part Three!