Review: FEAR STREET 1994, The Trilogy Begins on a High and Heart-Pounding Note
Shadyside has always been, well, Shady, Since the late 17th century, the town has never managed to become anything other than the place everyone wants to leave: insubstantial employment, high crime, little hope for the youth. Certainly in comparison with their neighbour town Sunnyvale, which, as the name suggests, is a lot better off in pretty much every respect. But then, perhaps Shadyside has itself to blame, what with hanging a witch who then cursed the town for eternity.
The Fear Street Trilogy has come to Netflix: three films over three weeks, directed by Leigh Janiak (Honeymoon), co-written by Janiak and Phil Graziadei, based on the teen horror books by R.L. Stine. Going in reverse chronological order, the first film sets itself in 1994: a seminal era for contemporary horror film, but the result shows that Janiak is more than up to the task, with an exciting, fun, and yes, scary start to the long and complicated story.
Deena (Kiana Maderia) has a lot of anger and a broken heart, as her secret girlfriend Sam (Olivia Welch) has moved to the 'right' side of town (Sunnyvale). A fight between the two towns' football game leads to some Sunnyvale assholes chasing the Shadyside schoolbus, which leads to an accident, which leads to Sam accidently unleashing a very old, very powerful, and very pissed-off entity on the town. Deena, her brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), Sam, Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger) have to follow the clues to save the town, and more importantly, themselves.
The teaser opening is a glorious homage to the game-changing 90s horror Scream, and works as a great set-up for the feel of the town (a second-tier shopping mall) and the gruesome nature of the murders. The lines are clear: Shadyside gets the short end of the stick, with higher crime and an adult community that is conspicuous in its near total absense; the few grown-ups we do meet are indifferent, and the Sunnyvale adults clearly know there's something else at work. Nope, it's up to the teenagers to figure out and solve this problem.
And this is a great group of teens; smart, funny, scared, bold. If I were in this situation, I would certainly want Deena and Josh at my side for bravery and the inside scoop. Kate might seem at first to be something of the bad-girl-snob, but sometimes a detachment is necessary to make hard decisions. And Simon might be the 'clown', but he walks a fine line between gross humour and geniune hilarity, adding in the right mix to keep us laughing as well as screaming.
Each beat ups the ante of the impending doom, and taking place mainly over the course of a single night, it finds a great balance between the fear and the humour, the adventure and the danger. Janiak clearly understands and loves not only the source material, but the tropes of the slasher film, to add nuance and alterations to them within a tale with a much larger backstory that the audience will shortly see. She knows that a viewer today is asking for a bit more context to the larger story; but at the same time, we want our splatter. And the film delivers on all fronts.
Fear Street 1994 is an engaging story, with characters you want to see survive (and a few you're happy when they don't), a great new mythology, and an ending that both sets up for the next film in this trilogy, and possibly one that follows to the future. Janiak knocks it out of of the park.
Fear Street 1994 will be available on Netflix on Friday, July 2nd.
- Leigh Janiak
- Phil Graziadei
- Leigh Janiak
- R.L. Stine
- Gillian Jacobs
- Olivia Welch
- Fred Hechinger