'Fear Street Part 2: 1978' Review: A Violent, Melancholy Sequel That Can't Quite Match The First Movie

The Fear Street saga continues with Fear Street Part 2: 1978, a less-successful sequel that still manages to thrill and surprise. Fear Street Part 1: 1994 was a tribute to the late '90s slasher revival that was launched with the game-changing Scream1978 strives for another era – the days of The Burning and Friday the 13th (two movies, I should add, that actually came out in the '80s, not the '70s). The cheeky self-awareness that populated the first film is less present here, replaced instead with an emotional, even melancholy tale of two young sisters hurtling towards certain doom.

It's summer at Camp Nightwing, and while the campers look forward to stupid games while the counselors look forward to as much pre-marital sex as their loins can handle, teenager Ziggy (Stranger Things star Sadie Sink) just wants to be left the hell alone. Her older sister Cindy (Emily Rudd) is a counselor at the camp, and while Ziggy has accepted that her lot in life is to be a loser from the cursed town of Shadyside, Cindy dreams of getting out. She dresses like a preppie and wants nothing more than to escape and start a better life somewhere else – perhaps neighboring Sunnyvale, the bright, hopeful sister of Shadyside.

When we first meet them, Ziggy and Cindy don't seem particularly close. In fact, Ziggy doesn't seem close with anyone. She stalks around the camp with her hands clenched into fists, ready to throw a punch. And who can blame her? Her fellow campers are outrageously cruel, even abusive to the point of being torturous. They call Ziggy a witch and torment her whenever they get the chance, but as far as everyone else is concerned (including Cindy), it's Ziggy who is the problem. She's seen as a troublemaker; an outcast; a pain in the ass. So surely she's to blame for her own torments, right?

Bullies and the drudgery of teendom soon become the least of Ziggy's problems, because there's an ax-wielding psycho loose in camp, killing anyone who gets in his way. As the Fear Street mythology continues to reveal itself, we learn that the killer is yet another unlucky Shadysider turned evil by Sarah Fier, the witch who was executed in town back in the 1600s, casting a curse over the land along her way to the grave.

While Fear Street Part 1 was able to stand on its own (save for a few moments setting up things to come), Fear Street Part 2 suffers from the fact that it's very much a continuation; a "to be continued..." story that lacks a strong identity of its own. This often feels less like a film and more like a lengthy episode of TV – the story even kicks off with a "previously on Fear Street" recap. And while that may be helpful to refresh the memories of some viewers, it's an odd choice that saps Fear Street Part 2 of some of its strength. The fun and novelty so prevalent in the first film have faded a bit, and there are long stretches of Fear Street Part 2 that come across as directionless, with a cast of characters blindly fleeing through the night, trying to avoid getting hacked to death.

As for that hacking, get ready for a lot of it. Fear Street Part 2 ups the ante when it comes to violence, going to some surprisingly nasty places that even films from the slasher heyday would typically avoid. No one is safe on Fear Street. So far, the series' approach to its violence has been fascinating. It's clear that director Leigh Janiak wants to satisfy bloodthirsty gorehounds. But the filmmaker also strives for something sharper; something that provokes both fun and horror in equal measure.

As slasher movies gained popularity, they settled into a comfortable pattern. There would be a masked killer. There would be one sympathetic main character, usually female. And then everyone else would be expendable meat. These characters might as well have had VICTIM tattooed to their foreheads in big red letters. But you can only watch people be hacked and slashed to death for so long before you start to feel some sort of regret, or worse, boredom. The slasher movie solution: make these would-be victims unlikable. Make them so annoying, or even so bland, that we couldn't wait to watch them bite it in creatively gruesome ways.

But the Fear Street series has subverted that approach so far. The first film featured a particularly grisly death that was made all the more disturbing because we had grown to care about the character meeting their demise. Fear Street 2 doubles down on this, setting up likable characters that we really hope make it to the end credits, even though we know they probably won't. A kind of gothic melancholy sets in as a result, and while that may not appeal to the blood-hungry, it works in the film's favor.

The sibling discourse between Ziggy and Cindy anchors all of this, and Sink and Rudd play off each other wonderfully. They come across as actual sisters, not just actors inhabiting those roles. The only thing truly hampering the emotional heft between the at-odds sisters is a needless storytelling framing device that wants to set up a twist we can all see coming miles away. It's a distracting decision.

Also distracting: the continued constant needle-drops. We're no longer dealing with '90s tunes here, but that doesn't make a barrage of '70s songs all crammed together any less annoying. And while the songs may be appropriate for the era, Fear Street Part 2 never quite nails down its time period. While Fear Street Part 1 did an acceptable job recreating the style of the 1990s, there's never a moment where Part 2 conjures up a genuine feel for the '70s. If anything, it comes across more like the 1980s, which appears to be the real decade Janiak is chasing here.

But Fear Street Part 2 also thrives once it really gets going. There's a certain rough patch at the start that the film thankfully shrugs off, eventually sucking us into its night-dark story of doomed youth. A potential – and potentially questionable – romance that blooms between Ziggy and Nick Goode (Ted Sutherland), the boy destined to grow up and be sheriff, is charming in its clumsiness. A side character like punk rocker counselor Alice (Ryan Simpkins) seems annoying at first, only to blossom into someone we're actively rooting for. After two films, the real strength of Fear Street is in its characters, not its scares. No one is expendable meat here – but that doesn't mean they won't get ground up in the end.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10