Friday, July 2, 2021

Fear Street Part One: 1994: Movie Review

Selling nostalgia and slasher gore in an R.L. Stine mystery.
Based on the Fear Street novels by R.L. Stine, Netflix’s release of Fear Street Part One: 1994 knows its target audience. We’re Gen X, 90s teens who grew up with R.L. Stine, came of age with Scream and slasher horror, and now we’re 38-45. And Netflix is selling us nostalgia with a three-week movie event. This is nostalgia – opens in 1994 at a bookstore in the Shadyside mall, follows that up with killer set-ups straight out of the Scream series, and sprinkled with the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Garbage, Sophie Hawkins, Radiohead and Soundgarden.   2021

Directed by: Leigh Janiak

Screenplay by: Kyle Killen, Phil Graziadei
Based on the books by R.L. Stine

Starring: Kiana Madeira, Fred Hechinger, and Olivia Scott Welch

I recommend a cursory knowledge of Fear Street, otherwise this is likely to come across as juvenile, ridiculous, and probably a little confusing. There are murders aplenty, witches hanged in the 17th century, dead murderers from decades ago reappearing, curses with marked blood, and it all comes down to five teens who the Sheriff doesn’t believe and of course no other adults in sight.

The Sheriff is Nick Goode (Ashley Zukerman) – with that family name etched in Fear Street lore it’s a given that he’ll become increasingly important as the trilogy progresses. The curse that drives the movie forward is the belief that Sarah Fier (the witch who was hanged in the 1600s) is avenging her death – or is Shadyside just a bad town with druggies and murderers? In R.L. Stine’s universe, the former is way more likely.

Fear Street Part 1: 1994 - (L-R) Julia Rehwald as Kate, Fred Hechinger as Simon and Kiana Madeira as Deena. Cr: Netflix © 2021

The teens in this instalment are Deena (Kiana Madeira) the central good girl, Kate (Julia Rehwald) the typical Shadyside bad girl, Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr) the internet-obsessed guy, Simon (Fred Hechinger) is a little harder to pin-down (however, noting that the origins of Fear Street involve Simon Fier, changed to Fear, I suspect this Simon may have more to the story), and finally Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) the girl who escaped Shadyside and made it to the crimeless haven of Sunnyvale.

Fear Street is nothing if not a 90s slasher pic; however, it was updated for today’s audiences – the central romance is Deena and Sam, and Simon’s sexual/gender identities are not entirely clear. The central pair easily push the 90s homophobia aside and the rest of the movie has a progression that wouldn’t have been there thirty years ago.

I liked the very 90s opening with Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman’s daughter, Maya, trying to survive Shadyside’s newest murderous rage, and then the introduction of Deena and Sam and their past relationship. The film’s direction, and the teens attempts to stop the curse, get very muddled in the middle with some ridiculous leaps that better slasher films don’t have to make. I also think the book series was superior in building atmosphere, while this Fear Street focuses more on the killings. By the end, the killings are nicely incorporated with the greater mystery, with more to unfold in Part Two: 1978. The Fear Street nostalgia will get you invested and the story is enough to keep you wanting more.

Fear Street Part Two: 1978: Movie Review