I have no real affinity towards R.L.Stine’s books; I didn’t grow up with them and I would like to read them at some point, but I wanted to say that upfront because my reason for taking an interest in Fear Street was not the source material. Streaming services are here to stay and as a movie-theater lover that is something that can be distressing at times; blockbusters will always have their home on the big screen, but smaller movies? Those benefit just as much by being on the big screen, but are seen on there for less time, since movie theaters want to keep the money makers on the screens for as long as possible, while smaller movies find economic safety in limited releases alongside streaming options. At the same time, streaming offers a new way to enjoy movies and reach new audiences; it’s easy to forget that not too long ago, any movie over 2 hours and 10 minutes was really hard to get made (obvious exceptions), but with streaming those restrictions no longer apply.
Then I saw how Fear Street was taking advantage of adapting for Netflix; why cram all the things you want to in a 3-hour movie or deal with the frustrations of a series, when you can make a trilogy that releases one part every week. I was intrigued to see the results of this experiment. Directed and co-written by Leigh Janiak alongside Phil Graziadei – these two have worked on all 3 movies – the trilogy stars Kiana Madeira, Benjamin Flores Jr., Ashley Zukerman, and Olivia Scott Welch. The overarching story follows Shadyside teen residents as they uncover the mysteries of their town, which has an extraordinary tendency to have violent crimes committed by some of its residents. From here on, I’ll cover each movie on its own trying not to give too much away; part one should be safe from spoilers, but part two and three may have a few hints to stuff you may want to not know.
Part One: 1994, is about Deena taking a trip from her rough hometown of Shadyside to the suburban utopia that is Sunnyvale, in order to give Sam a separation note; meanwhile another violent crime is committed and Deena’s younger brother keeps his investigation on the nature of the crimes going. For this part, besides the usual cast and crew, Kyle Killen is credited in the writing, while Julia Rehwald and Fred Hechinger star as well. All three parts have an easy reference point – which potentially speaks about the influence of Stine’s work – and I think it is a good starting point for the discussion; part one is ‘Stranger Things, but 90s and more horror’. I liked this opening a lot. It feels like a teen-horror movie, but at times it dismisses some of the tropes of that genre and replaces them with something more interesting. There is an emphasis in exploring how Shadyside is seen by the world; a broken place full of broken people will logically result in the violent crimes that occur, while Sunnyvale is the perfect American city where everyone is living the dream. The characters are part of this and react/are shaped by this, and the ways it explores these themes are pretty entertaining. It is also a finely paced movie with some good (if unoriginal) scares at regular intervals, some good banter and comedy stemming from the characters, and a few great set-pieces. It’s a shame then that the characters are not given as much time to be more than the stereotypes they represent; you have the fearless protagonist, the nerdy chubby kid, the smart yet ruthless star student, and the drug-dealing loser with a heart of gold. While the movie is trying to subvert a few expectations from horror fans, the biggest and most boring one is still here, as despite the actors making the characters have more of an impact, the characters are still the same blueprint you’ve seen a thousand times. Overall, though I liked the first part well enough.
Part Two: 1978 can be described as ‘Friday the 13th clone’ and that would be a bit harsh but also true. This time Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, Ryan Simpkins, and McCabe Slye are the leads as the Berman sisters’ story is told to us by the sole survivor of a fateful night in the Summer Camp Nightwing, which also sheds some light on the curse that supposedly plagues Shadyside; Zak Olkewicz is this time credited with writing alongside the regular writers. While Part one felt a bit more ambitious, Part two feels safe to work within its exact genre of camp slashers. While that is less interesting, Part two is as fun as the first simply because it does that genre really well, even if it thinks it’s being smarter than it actually is. Without giving anything away, it tries to subvert expectations by stating something everyone knows is coming or it tries to give dramatic meaning to one of the monster’s key traits; those parts were not really interesting to me. I liked the movie more when it was ruthless in its portrayal of its central theme: Shadysiders are seen as lesser individuals by Sunnyvallers and are treated as such. There is an almost apathetic feel to some of the kills and a real meanness to some of the scenes that portray this, which gave the movie that unique feel it is lacking most of the time. Moreover, this is a trilogy that keeps showing you how Shadyside is a place full of humanity and how easily that can be taken away and twisted to blame the victims, and Part two does this the best out of all the trilogy; it presents two opposing extremes of finding a way out of that horrible situation and uses most of the film to pit those two options against each other. Having said that, Part two finds a comfort zone in being a camp slasher and sticks within that comfort zone for most of the runtime. It gets gnarly and uncomfortable at spots, but it mostly delivers on the thrills you would expect from a mid-sized slasher and also suffers from the same drawbacks; despite the characters being part of something bigger, they are not interesting as individuals and that makes the movie less engaging. This is not a case of characters being annoying so their fates are cathartic in a way nor are the thrills enough to carry the movie on their own.
Part 3: 1666, concludes this trilogy with Gillian Jacobs having a more prominent role alongside the usual cast and Kate Trefry getting writing credits. It finally shows the origin of the Shadyside curse and the witch known as Sarah Fier, while returning to 1994 for the conclusion of the saga. This part is best described as a ‘supernatural procedural cop show with a 90s ending’ and it’s as messy as it sounds. While the idea of having the same actors portray the 1666 characters as a visual for how long this curse has plagued Shadyside and joining these stories with a tragic connection, it also felt like there was not enough originality for this part to exist. The setting is pretty good and the story would have worked far better if it were part of a flashback or a prolonged sequence of figuring out what the curse is, but it takes up quite a bit of the runtime and by the halfway mark it becomes very stale. There are great ideas for a hard-hitting horror movie on display, while the setting allows the scares to be more effective and surprising, however things start repeating and twist reveals are pushed back (as if to justify the existence of a third movie), which makes them loose a lot of their impact. Furthermore, despite some good moments of cyclicality with characters, some other characters are left on the brinks (despite them matching the themes and cyclicality more) for the main ones to have extra screen time; that was a bit of a letdown for me because it would have given those characters a bit more breathing space and a better conclusion. To further the blow, trilogy expanding twists start getting revealed as well and they are easy to see coming, while the shift to the modern setting is not as smooth or satisfying as I wanted; too many little things don’t add up and the faster pacing of the modern setting clashes with what the movie has been so far and with how many loose ends the movie needs to tie up. It never really recovers from these issues as a horror movie; there are no thrills left for horror fans, but I actually enjoyed the whole ending sequence as a dark adventure-thriller ending. The plan is silly, but offers some thrilling sequences, there are heroics and sacrifices aplenty, montages with cool songs, exciting confrontations; all in all, it was an entertaining conclusion, but not for a horror movie.
Lastly, I just want to touch on some general stuff that apply for all 3 movies. I really enjoyed the acting from almost all actors; Kiana Madeira especially had a really convincing teen performance that also allowed her character to be fun and sad in more nuanced ways. Leigh Janiak did a wonderful job for all 3 movies; I really liked the directing and the chemistry, but the writing was an especially difficult task and she (alongside the other writers) did a good job – even if it wasn’t always perfect. A grievance that the trilogy really annoyed me with was a loose approach to injuries; I go on and on about not letting realism and logic ruin the magic of cinema, but Fear street is a perfect example of that sentiment not being used as an excuse for cheap thrills or a shortcut to fake tension. Without getting into too many spoilers, when knife wounds are no longer scary or cause for concern then something is really wrong with how the movie utilizes that arsenal.
Overall, the Fear street trilogy is decent; on their own all 3 movies would make for a solid horror flick, but together they just add a bit more flair to their strengths as well as a bit more scrutiny to their flaws. However, I enjoyed this form of adaptation a lot more than I expected (especially considering that I have no affinity for the original source material) and I am hopeful that more properties that would benefit from this approach will be given the green light to do so. There is a lot to like about Fear street, but also a lot of room for improvement, and I’m hoping streaming services can give this concept a chance to grow and reach its potential.