Fear Street Part 1: 1994 – Review

Cert – 18, Run-time – 1 hour 46 minutes, Director – Leigh Janiak

A group of teenagers find a witches curse reawakened, and possessing fellow students, leading them into murder-spree’s with high body counts.

It feels difficult to review the first of Netflix’s Fear Street horror trilogy. Not because it’s perfectly average or a hard to describe horror experience, but because it feels incomplete. Incomplete because in its current state it’s clear that there are other reaches that are left to explore within the two films that are to come, however it feels more like it holds a narrative for a TV series rather than a group of feature films. Initially the aim for these adaptations of R.L. Stine’s Fear Street book series was to release a new instalment once a month for three months, however after a pandemic struck the release plan changed to once a week on Netflix, which may perhaps help with the style that it holds.

Throughout this first feature we follow a group of students, led by Keana Madeira’s Deena. Life seems relatively calm in their small town – despite being labelled the murder capital of the USA. However, all this comes to a halt after a group of late-night killings in a local mall. Every teen in the area is put on high alert, although joking about urban legends relating to previous killing sprees in the area, allegedly caused by a witch possessing victims and leading them to kill. Deena and her friends, alongside her younger brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), who just so happens to be knowledgeable about both the internet and local folklore and history, find themselves thrown into just this scenario when a group of seemingly invincible killers continuously track the group down. Weapons escalate from razor blades to axes as the landmarks of the area, the supermarket and the school, form the backdrop to the various chases and fights for survival.

The horror works fairly well throughout. While the extent of the bloodshed doesn’t always feel warranted there’s certainly an appeal when it comes to the strength of the masked attackers, particularly of the sack-faced axe-carrier who we appear to be promised more of in the seemingly more slash-filled continuation. However, often the horror appears to take a back seat. As people are trying to stop a door from being broken in the focus is on Deena and her ex-girlfriend, Sam (Olivia Scott Welch). The pair are reconciling after Sam has moved to a neighbouring rival town, and appears to have moved on from the pair’s former relationship. The more personal and emotional details of various characters, but particularly this central pairing, appear to be put more at the fore and cause the film to occasionally feel like a generic teen drama instead of a fully-formed piece of the horror genre. The horror details themselves often feel somewhat left in the background, as do the feeling of the 90’s. While being set in 1994 it often feels like it could, and is, set in the modern day.

The opening to this first film in the trilogy promises plenty of slashes and splatters. The thrills it provides, and slightly askew cliched nature, are entertaining and bring you into the piece. However, the film delves into teen mystery investigations with horror pushed to the side (although not quite in the same vein as Scooby Doo). Such elements are good – although not all interactions between the teenage protagonists aren’t always completely convincing – but they don’t quite feel like they’re meant to be the focus of the narrative, yet take up the large proportion of time. It all feels like build-up to what’s to come in the next two entries in this selection of adaptations. Promise is shown, especially with the promise that “Time changes. Evil doesn’t”. You just hope that the evil is more present in the next entry and acts upon the horror that’s sold.

Fear Street Part One: 1994 certainly feels like a lot of build-up, like the beginning of a TV series. The horror feels pushed aside, hopefully for later entries, but the investigative scenes are enough to build interest towards those.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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