Since it opened weeks early overseas, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has gotten mixed reviews, many negative (including Bloody Disgusting’s own). Perhaps as a dinosaur adventure it falls short of Jurassic Park, or even the first Jurassic World. But cut it some slack. Even Steven Spielberg couldn’t maintain the Jurassic Park momentum with The Lost World (although it’s my personal favorite of the series, for what that’s worth). And maybe Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom wasn’t ever supposed to be another epic island adventure anyway. Because as a smaller, more contained film that’s instead more focused on how scary dinosaurs would actually be if they existed here in 2018, Fallen Kingdom hits its mark.
The Jurassic movies were always monster movies anyway, at their core. A giant T-rex chasing a jeep was downright terrifying, even if it did eat that A-hole lawyer we all hated. And no matter how gentle the Brontosauri were, they were giant creatures that could pulverize you with a single step. Still, there’s a bit of a safe distance in the other Jurassic Parks and Jurassic World. After all, in those movies, you’re only really in danger if you buy a ticket to the theme park.
So Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom asks you to confront something much scarier: What if dinosaurs broke into your home?
The script by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow sets the second half of Fallen Kingdom indoors. Considering how giant dinosaurs are, that’s miraculous in itself. Sure, it’s an enormous mansion, but it’s confined to four walls, a floor and a ceiling. Director J.A. Bayona seems at home with this.
Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) has orchestrated a rescue of the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar before a volcano erupts and re-extincts them. Turns out, Mills is not a humanitarian. He wants to sell the dinosaurs to the highest bidder. Everyone thinks they can control John Hammond’s experiments, but it’s up to Owen (Chris Pratt), Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) to contain this mess and escape the mansion.
There’s a reason siege movies are a tried and true subgenre of horror. What works for zombies can work just as well with dinosaurs, especially in the hands of a director like Bayona (The Orphanage). The principle is you’re trying to keep the monsters out, but you’re still trapped. It doesn’t matter how big or small the monsters are, they’re relentless.
The dark corridors of the mansion lead to a lot of reveals of dinosaurs lurking in the shadows. Bayona knows how to build suspense to keep you waiting until the dinosaurs step out into the light. There are hiding places for the humans too, but what good is hiding when an Indominus Rex/Raptor crossbreed can smell you?
They sort of did this in Jurassic Park with the kitchen scene with the raptors. The kids were hiding, and the raptors learned how to turn doorknobs. This is the kitchen scene on a much bigger scale. There are more hallways and elevators in the mansion, and lots more (and bigger) dinosaurs on the loose.
Fallen Kingdom gives you sympathy for the monsters too. Like King Kong, Godzilla or Frankenstein, the dinosaurs didn’t ask to be created.
They’re just living their lives, doing what giant prehistoric animals do. By the time they’re loose in the mansion, they’ve been dragged off their island, shot with tranquilizers and bullets in some cases. And they’re not happy about it. Maybe they don’t know that Owen, Claire and Maisie are on their side; maybe they don’t care. The heroes don’t want to hurt the dinosaurs. They’re still dinosaur advocates at the end of the day, but that only makes it harder to survive the nightmare scenario. How do you defeat a monster you don’t want to kill?
I get why Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is maybe a misfire to audiences used to Spielbergian dinosaur epics. The size and scale of dinosaurs necessitates wide open spaces and the franchise has firmly established tropical locales as main settings. Asking those viewers to now get excited about dank, dark, wet interiors, well, that’s maybe a tough sell.
However, I hope the audience that loves movies like Dawn of the Dead, Assault on Precinct 13 and From Dusk Till Dawn appreciate what Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has given us. They made a Jurassic sequel that’s really just people trapped in a house with monsters, and it totally works.
I realize that even among horror fans, the audience for Jurassic World may not want the franchise to stray too far from the epic monster movie roots of the series. That’s fair, but Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is here anyway. If you’re worried it’s going to be a letdown, I hope you can at least consider watching it in the context of a housebound horror movie and see if it satisfies you as much as it did me.
From where I stand, dinosaurs are scary again. And that’s a win for Fallen Kingdom.