Sunday 4 July 2021

Netflix And Chill: Fear Street Part 1: 1994 (2021)

Based on the books by R. L. Stine, and directed by Leigh Janiak (who co-wrote the screenplay with Phil Graziadei), Fear Street Part 1: 1994 (which I will just be referring to from here on out as Fear Street) is an unsophisticated slasher movie that is happy to wallow in the familiar tropes of the subgenre until a supernatural element comes to the fore, providing a mystery that needs to be solved by some plucky leads.

Kiana Madeira is Deena, a young woman who is upset after recently separating from her partner. Her friends, Kate (Julia Rehwad) and Simon (Fred Hechinger), want to help her through the grieving process by helping her direct her rage towards Sunnyvale, the neighbouring town that her ex has moved to. Sunnyvale seems nice and prosperous, which is the exact opposite of Shadyside, where Deena and her friends reside. Shadyside seems to be cursed, deranged killers cropping up every few years, creating a bloody and murderous timeline that intrigues many who try to connect the dots, with one of those people being Deena's young brother, Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.). Anyway, in typical slasher movie tradition, a prank gone awry sets off a chain of events that leaves Deena and friends on the run from a killer who seems unstoppable. And that killer isn't alone. 

Although I was in the minority with my lack of love for the debut feature film, Honeymoon, from Janiak and Graziadei, there was something there that makes it surprising that it took so long for them to land another chance to show what they're capable of. Fear Street is a much easier sell for them, superficially. It's got the Netflix push, it has many moments that play out as a simple throwback to the many post-Scream slashers of the late '90s and early 2000s, and it's obvious that the budget is a nice chunk of change (judging from the soundtrack choices alone). But it's clear why Janiak and Graziadei were good choices for this material when twists and turns start to occur, and one or two tropes are subverted on the way to a third act that keeps moving further and further away from the slasher movie template viewers were given in the opening sequence.

The youthful cast all do a pretty good job. Madeira may not be a great lead, but that's easier to put up with in the second half of the movie, when Flores Jr. gets more screentime. Rehwald and Hechinger are both entertaining enough, and Olivia Scott Welch isn't too bad in the role of Samantha Fraser, the young woman who unwittingly becomes the target of killers out for blood, literally. Ashley Zukerman is the local Sheriff, and there's a small voice cameo for Gillian Jacobs, who I assume will be onscreen for a while in the next instalment(s).

It may be a bit dim throughout, but you also get a good share of neon here and there and it's never too dark to stop you from seeing everything that's happening onscreen. The score is decent, the soundtrack is a busy clash of tunes from "Now That's What I Call 1990s" throughout the first half, and the pacing picks up in the second half to ensure that viewers should be looking forward to the next part of the story. 

It's just a shame that some may be put off by the first half, with that opening homage to Scream feeling a bit too slavishly close to something that was already quite perfect and the lead character lacking much warmth or charisma. Sticking with it proves ultimately worthwhile though, and it's still a decent bit of bloody fun, overall.


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