[‘FEAR STREET PT. 2: 1978’ Review] cinematic electricity wanes, killer back half comes to the rescue

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

FEAR STREET PART TWO: 1978

Rated R, 110 minutes.
Director: Leigh Janiak
Cast: Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, Ryan Simpkins, McCabe Slye, Ted Sutherland, Drew Scheid, Gillian Jacobs, Kiana Madeira, Benjamin Flores Jr., Olivia Scott Welch, Jacqi Vene, Eden Campbell and Michael Provost

In Part Two of Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy, it’s clear that director Leigh Janiak allows her music choices to steer the narrative to a degree. We move from one scene to the next with barely any moment of pause as she transitions from Neil Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show” to Captain & Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together.” As exciting as some of these needle drops are, they are more about capturing a feeling of something familiar than they are about allowing the characters to take hold of the viewer truly.

Diamond’s song is heard as we move about the new Shadyside terror spot–a summer camp in 1978 that unfolds into a gruesome survival fight for campers and counselors as a possessed killer roams the grounds. Janiak is chasing a youthful feeling reminiscent of Dazed and Confused as kids are out for summer and ready to raise Cain—you know, get flirty, go roaming in the dark, and occasionally go through the motions of hanging someone accused of witchcraft. Wait, what? Yeah. As you may have collected from the first chapter, Shadyside is a cursed small town in need of an exorcism. A witch may be behind all the scary happenings in this town, and the unkind children at the camp terrorize any outsiders, specifically Ziggy Berman (Stranger Things‘ Sadie Sink). They are cruel to her and definitely make her feel as though she doesn’t fit in.

Fortunately, Ziggy has a friend in Nick Goode (Ted Sutherland), who understands her and her struggles. Their relationship is one of the film’s driving forces. The same could be said of the relationship between Ziggy and her sister, Cindy (a very good Emily Rudd). Cindy is like the central characters in Booksmart: she follows the rules, worries about her future, and is jealous of some teens’ freedom before they go off into the real world. Cindy is challenged by a fellow counselor named Alice (Ryan Simpkins) to sink her teeth into the wild side of life. While these characters test the waters of change, all hell breaks loose when a killer turns the camp’s fun and games into a slaughterhouse. To survive, they must band together and discover who (or what) is pulling the strings.

Part Two has all the ingredients to thrive. It looks as slick as the first entry, with more of a sunny, gold hue to callback to such horror films as Sleepaway Camp and Friday the 13th. However, the first half of this latest installment isn’t as electric as its predecessor. It takes about 45 minutes to ramp up speed and find its footing. Admittedly, the characters aren’t as fun to hang around, and the narrative is on the slow side. However, it’s once blood hits the deck that interest spikes. The characters begin to have more serious conversations, and how they back (or don’t back) themselves out of corners is exciting and scary. 

Part Two is much scarier. There’s some imagery, especially one toward the end, that you won’t soon forget. One horror film comes to mind when this scene arrives, but to reveal what it is would spoil the wickedness of this film’s finale. It’s nightmare fuel, for sure.

This entry is more of a stepping stone that doesn’t quite hold its own like Fear Street: 1994. There’s a lot to admire within, but there’s more to look forward to with its third and final chapter, which looks like it’s taking a deep dive into the WTF pool. July 16th can’t get here fast enough! (Maybe once we can put all the pieces together, more appreciation will come for the individual chapters. I can say that watching Part Two made me love Part One even more. Maybe Part Three will cause me to rethink Part Two. But for now, Part Two is fine.)

Grade: B-

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.