Sex, summer camp, and a masked madman on a murderous rampage – you’d be forgiven for thinking that’s a description of Friday the 13th, but Fear Street: Part 2 fits the bill just as well.
The second installment of director Leigh Janiak’s Fear Street series doesn’t reinvent the wheel of the genre and suffers slightly from its middle child spot in the trilogy. Despite those shortcomings, the gory theatrics of Fear Street: Part 2 rise to a crescendo that makes its faults seem small. Part Riverdale and part Friday the 13th, the film might be less surprising than its predecessor, but it’s still able to capitalize on its central relationships and find the right mix of nasty and sweet.
Following the events of the first movie, siblings Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) have tracked down the mysterious C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs) to find out more about what happened the night a crazed killer terrorized the kids at Camp Nightwing in 1978. We fade in on an over-abundance of 70s references as Berman recounts the gruesome events to the teens, telling the story of how multiple campers were viciously murdered that night – including Berman’s sister.
Part 1 provided the road map for the Fear Street trilogy, explaining how the town of Shadyside fell under the power of a witch’s curse in 1666, ever so often causing Average Joes to suddenly embark on merciless killing sprees. If the preview is anything to go by, Part 3 will inevitably bring things home, taking us back to that fateful day in 1666 to see how it all started. That leaves Part 2 in a precarious position – how do you surprise viewers when the results of 1978’s murders were explained in the first film? How do you keep the twists coming?
It’s a hard thing to do. We know what bloody fate awaits sisters Cindy (Emily Rudd) and Ziggy Berman (Sadie Sink), so there’s not much stalking around the camp woods that could take us by surprise. We recognize the sinister whispers that Cindy’s boyfriend Tommy (McCabe Slye) hears as a sign that he’ll eventually become the murderer, so no real revelations there either. Even the film’s arguably biggest twist feels a bit predictable, with casting and filming decisions clueing the audience into the truth before it’s revealed.
Speaking of casting, it’s hard not to miss the delightful supporting characters we got to know during the first installment – the loss of Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger) is particularly poignant – and the new supporting cast doesn’t quite fill their quick-witted, cheeky shoes. Deena and Josh only make appearances at the beginning and end of the film, so we’re forced to get to know a whole new crop of kids – many of whom we know will die – which makes for a few less-than shocking, less gutting kills.
There are strong turns from the main cast and the theatrical ramp-up to the film’s final moments manage to make Fear Street: Part 2 worth the price of admission. While the first film featured killers we had no real connection to, Part 2 does the exact opposite. As Tommy, Slye does a fantastic job setting up himself as a normal, slightly sex-obsessed, but sweet and respectful boyfriend in short amount of time. He uses his physicality to great effect, carrying himself with an easy, yet subdued confidence that quickly turns menacing once he’s blood-spattered and lugging an axe around. It’s hard to reconcile Tommy who’s dating Cindy at the beginning of the film with the slack-eyed murder machine he becomes, but the fact that the killer is someone the campers know and care about raises the stakes in a way that feels more acute than the first installment. When one character asks Cindy if she would be able to kill Tommy, she hesitates – it’s a disturbing, painful moment of realization for her, especially as the film moves towards that inevitable conclusion.
While romance still abounds in the second installment, the film finds its emotional center in sisters Cindy and Ziggy. Sink channels her character, Max, from Stranger Things and continues to play the archetype of “weird girl from the wrong side of the tracks” quite well, but Rudd shines as goody-two-shoes Cindy. She has the “final girl” feel, trading in her brand-new polo shirt for knives and some pretty gnarly kills. She has ample opportunity to let loose a slew of agonized howls, and finds the difference in all of them – whether she’s screaming her sister’s name in heartbreak, or letting out a blood-curdling scream when she goes in for the kill, she’s not holding back.
Thankfully, in the film’s setup for Part 3 it looks like we’re getting Cindy, Ziggy, Kate, Simon, and so many more characters back for the final throwdown with the witch. It’s unclear how our favourite Fear Street kids end up in the 1600s, but here’s to hoping Janiak can land what’s shaping up to be a lively, bloodthirsty trilogy.
Fear Street Part 2: 1978 is streaming on Netflix
Sammie is a news writer for Reporter Newspapers in Georgia, covering the communities of Brookhaven and Dunwoody in metro-Atlanta. She has previously written about film and television for publications such as Boston University News Service and Oz Magazine, and holds a Masters in Journalism from Boston University. For more fun insights about movies, life, or Florence Pugh’s character-defining turn as Amy in 2019’s Little Women, you can follow her on twitter @sammie_purcell8