DIFF Review: Fear Street

As October comes to a close it’s time to look back and reflect on the best, most fright inducing works that’ve come out of this year. Here, Sophie delves into the tripart Netflix series: Fear Street

Based on the books by R. L. Stine and directed by Honeymoon’s Leigh Janiak, Fear Street (2021) is Netflix’s latest original horror film to reach audiences. Split into three movies released weekly in July—Part 1: 1994, Part 2: 1978, and Part 3: 1666—the series pays homage to the iconic slashers that have defined the genre. But Janiak’s trilogy, which has been in the works for nearly four years, is vastly more than a mirror to the greats. Wildly surpassing my expectations, Fear Street (2021) has become one of my favorite viewings of the year.

The trilogy begins with Part 1: 1994, an installment that, reduced to its most basic structure, is fun. 1994 is neon lights and roller-skating rinks; a camp-lite, coming-of-age film in which the characters quip and the story takes itself lightly. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its gory moments—there’s one scene in particular that makes me shudder every time I remember it—but overall, 1994 is an easy, instantly re-watchable summer hit with some novelties written in.

Then in a whiplash-inducing shift, 1978 sinks the audience into the claustrophobic horror and oppressive atmosphere of the Camp Nightwing setting. We’ve moved away from the Scream-influenced 1994 and onto the likes of Friday the 13th. 1978 is the most violent of the three, with continuous action that maintains a constant frame of anxiety. If 1994 was an adolescent exploration, 1978 is a brutal, bloody stake; and yet, ever present is the emotional foundation that keeps the trilogy grounded.

Fear Street is meant to be three parts of one whole, so there are no cheap shocks or meaningless, cash-grab storylines in 1666. Instead, despite the viciously contrasting tones, it’s clear that everything has been building up to the plot twists and the damn near flawless conclusion of the series.

The ending of 1666 returns at last to the original storyline of 1994. But this time, 1994 carries (and you realize it has always carried) the trauma and anger and pain of everything that has come before it. 1666 is a masterpiece in echoes, pulling together every loose string from all that came before and reminding the audience through chilling, blink-and-you-miss-them flashbacks. It makes the third film stand out as the best of the trilogy, something I’ve rarely seen in any series.

More than that, I’ve never seen cultural awareness as it is in Fear Street. Rather than exist as blatant one-liners reaching shallowly for that “PC” point, consciousness is written into the spine of the story. Fear Street may have taken notes from the classics but it is undoubtedly a modern film that mixes blood with meaning.

Janiak has added a gripping set of movies to the archives, one that has reanimated my love for the slasher genre. It doesn’t revolutionize cinema (nor does it need to), but Fear Street has immensely heightened my standards and expectations for horror films. After the tremendous high of the ending, I feel as if I’ll be disappointed by whatever I watch next.

The movies aren’t perfect; 1994 is rocky and unsure of itself at times, and there are a few points that could’ve been integrated more elegantly. But all faults considered, it’s been a long while since I’ve seen anyone pull off a series as entertaining as this. I’ve already planned a rewatch, and after that I look forward to writing a spoiler-full, analytic love-fest of Fear Street (2021).

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