Movie Review – Fear Street Part Two: 1978 (2021)

Fear Street Part Two: 1978, 2021.

Directed by Leigh Janiak.
Starring Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, Ryan Simpkins, Chiara Aurelia, Gillian Jacobs, McCabe Slye, Ted Sutherland, Drew Scheid, Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Matthew Zuk, Ashley Zukerman, and Jordana Spiro.

SYNOPSIS:

Shadyside, 1978. School’s out for summer, and the activities at Camp Nightwing are about to begin. But when another Shadysider is possessed with the urge to kill, the fun in the sun becomes a gruesome fight for survival.

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An entire flashback sequel is risky for several reasons; the narrative is shifting away from already established characters that viewers have a vested interest in, it runs the chance of coming across as filler material that doesn’t compare to the grander picture, and of course, details about how this will play out are already made aware. Fear Street Part Two: 1978 somehow rises above all this, carrying the momentum off its cliffhanger ending right into the past of a Shadyside/Sunnyvale summer camp, new and old characters that are more fleshed out (there is a tighter focus and smaller scope to the characters here) while providing more context to the overarching story of a cursed town that can’t escape senseless violence and its spoiled and preppy polar opposite, and a twist that, even if it’s obvious something doesn’t add up, is satisfying not just for the surprise itself, but for the emotional punch it carries with it.

In yet another last-ditch effort, Deena (Kiana Madeira) and her brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) bring a tied up and restrained, possessed Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) to one C. Berman (Gilleon Jacobs), a survivor of the same curse alongside the massacre that occurred at Camp Nightwing in 1978. She explains that there is no stopping the witchcraft (a woman named Sarah Fier was accused of being a witch centuries ago, tortured, and now has a hold over Shadyside able to curse individual residents at will, turning even the kindest and most stable hearts black and incensed with murderous rage).

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Naturally, as storytime commences, the flashback begins, and we are introduced to Berman’s sister. Ziggy (Sadie Sink, carrying with her that same fiery screen presence as Kiana Madeira) is not only being bullied at Camp Nightwing and accused by multiple other campers of stealing $10; she’s assumed to be a witch similar to the legend of Sarah Fier. She’s an oddball Stephen King fan believing Shadyside to be cursed, but also somewhat of a hostile person in her own right. Granted, it’s no excuse for the campers to try setting her on fire before the counselors intervene, but we are not dealing with a cheerful thinking nerd like Josh from the previous film.

This is not the first instance Ziggy has been targeted for harassment and probably won’t be the last. She’s not liked. The counselors, mainly young adults from Sunnyvale, consider sending her home until one of them suggests a shady solution. The burn mark from the lighter could be seen as a cause for concern and raise questions if Ziggy is sent home, so rather than actually go through with that or hold any of the instigators accountable, they keep her around (which is fair) but more so to sweep things under the rug and keep up that prestige public image. One of my criticisms regarding Fear Street Part One: 1994 was that the Shadyside/Sunnyvale rivalry somewhat got lost in the shuffle of the protagonists discovering and slowly understanding what they were dealing with. Here, there are immediately cracks in the reputation of Sunnyvale, hinting at something slimy that fits their agenda. It goes a little beyond teenagers wanting to kill each other on a football field.

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Nightwing Camp also has a series of events (things like capture the flag) that doesn’t allow campers to separate into their own preferred groups. No, it is straight-up Shadyside against Sunnyvale, a war that Sunnyvale has supposedly never lost, which seems to reinforce this notion of superiority in an ugly way, given that these are children competing. It’s mostly fun and games, but still, the whole dynamic serves as an uneasy reminder for Shadyside to know and stay in their place.

Ziggy’s sister Cindy (Emily Rudd) is one of the counselors. Both are from Shadyside. They couldn’t be dealing with their origins anymore differently. Cindy is dating the perfect boyfriend, Tommy (McCabe Slye), and dresses in polo shirts as if she wants to be a Sunnyvale person. It’s not just inexplicable mass murderers holding back Shadyside or goodhearted people escaping through drugs (Ryan Simpkins and Sam Brooks fill that void here, with the former given more of a complete character and one particularly devastating sequence that speaks to a different kind of horror growing up in a place like Shadyside), but an actual curse. Ziggy and Cindy butt heads so much over their past, present, and doomed future (although only one of them realizes that painful destiny) without clear-cut protagonist and antagonist labels. As such, Ziggy also finds herself involved with the flirtatious future Sheriff of Sunnyvale Nick Goode (Ted Sutherland), bonding over the literary triumph that is Carrie as he professes to be unlike the rest of his peers. Their scenes together are so crucial that there’s also a sensation the impact would have landed harder if the story took place over the course of one day, but it nonetheless succeeds. In general, these movies are so loaded with actual story it’s a wonder most of it usually resonates.

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Yet again coasting by on a surplus of era-appropriate needle drops (one of the characters is named Ziggy, for God sake, so expect some David Bowie) and throwback vibes (the obvious influence here is Friday the 13th), director Leigh Janiak (this time co-writing alongside Zak Olkewicz) also captures that distinctiveness of R.L Stine’s horror, this time honing in on the mysterious bag face ax-wielding maniac and the singing lady who committed suicide. The kills are effectively brutal (one of them goes to a dark place many people might not expect, once again proving that these films are not afraid to kill off anyone) as people are picked off one by one (at one point, right after fucking instead of looking after the kids, to embrace those classic clichés) as our heroes try and understand the curse in a different way that adds on to what’s learned in the first movie. Admittedly, the overbearing soundtrack is once again a bit much, but there is a more conscious effort to make the songs fit.

There’s another third act adrenaline rush of suspense to close out Fear Street Part Two: 1978, but this time the characters are more than likable. There are dynamics at play that ripple throughout the rest of the story and provide greater context to what came before. Shadyside and Sunnyvale are the real stars of this installment, although Sadie Sink and Emily Rudd are undeniably outstanding in their roles. The social dynamics are more precise, as is the message these movies want to get across, with a stage set for an incredible finale. We only have to wait one week to see if it delivers or wastes it all away. However, in a bottle, nothing can take away how tragic, upsetting, and enraging the climax here is, or the great character work at play throughout.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]

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