Fear Street Trilogy Review: Exhilaration overshadows the flaws in this engaging tribute to slasher flicks
Gory, witchy, scary, smart, flawed and yet wholesome - Fear Street is the Stranger Things meets Halloween kind of an experience
If Netflix made a deal with the devil to get a new Stranger Things-like teen slasher franchise, the devil has granted that and more. Like what was done in Stranger Things, this franchise pits a bunch of teenagers against an unsurmountable threat; there are references and homages to many popular slasher films like Scream, Halloween, Friday The 13th, and so on; there are newer worlds within the universe, often under the small town they are living in. However, despite all that, Fear Street does seem like a freshly cut creature.
In 1666, Sarah Fier, an alleged witch is hung on a tree by the townsmen. Several centuries later, in 1994, four teens, Deena (Kiana Madeira), Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), Kate (Julia Rehwald), and Simon (Fred Hechinger) need to save Samantha (Olivia Scott Welch), who is haunted and hunted by what the townsmen have for centuries believed to be Sarah Fier, reincarnating to kill people and spread agony through her curse. Josh gets to the depths of the fable and realises that this isn't an isolated event and that a common thread runs back to all major serial killings that have happened in the town, the most popular being the 1978 Camp Nightwing massacre, and eventually leading up to the death of a pastor in 1666, the year in which Sarah was killed.
Director: Leigh Janiak
Cast: Kiana Madeira, Sadie Sink, Olivia Scott Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr.
Streaming on: Netflix
So the franchise is divided into three films with four parts: The first one, set in the present time in the year 1994, follows the teens' attempts at saving Sam, the second takes us back to 1978 through the eyes of C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs/Sadie Sink), the sole survivor of the camp massacre, the third from the perspective of Fier herself about the events that lead to her death, and eventually, back to 1994 to see the final bout between good and evil.
A major detail that's missing here, seems to be the most unique and commendable aspect of the franchise: Where does this happen? Fear Street happens in a fictional town called Shadyside, dubbed as the murder capital of the United States. Death and dread are the norms in Shadyside, in contrast to the neighbouring town called Sunnyvale, where everything is prosperous and daisies dance spreading joy and sunshine. The result is the perennial fierce competition between the two towns.
The franchise does a great job in using this idea to build the personal intricacies between its characters, their drive, and so on. This comes even when the majority of the story happens in Shadyside. Shadyside is akin to the Gotham in Fox's Gotham, but with just the teen characters. Now, this lack of adult characters in the first two films is appalling, and it is safe to assume that it was an intentional move. It wouldn't have hurt to add at least a handful of debilitated adult characters, however, these kids are all on their own throughout. Adult characters like Nick Goode, the sheriff in town, or C Bergman, are also, in fact, the kids from the second film, and now seem no different than these teens. This extends to the point that even when a murder happens in the middle of an intersection at night, there's nobody around. No cars are running parallelly, and anybody can break into any house.
This sort of convenience in driving the plot can be seen throughout the first two films. Do you want to look for a severed hand that was buried decades ago? It's right there, a few centimetres from where you buried it. Are you looking for a body of a witch that was buried several centuries ago? It's just a few feet digs away.
The first film adds misery in the form of inconsistent emotional arcs. For example, just a night after her friends are killed in gruesome manners, a lead character is happily snuggling with her girlfriend, with no thought about the mayhem they just went through. There's no conversation about it either.
For all the lows, the first film does makeup with a good dosage of fear-inducing carnage, gore and leaves you excited for the rest of the two films. The second film, however, is the weakest in the franchise. It dials down the horror, the gore, as well as the freshness in its storytelling. Since 1994 hints at what is in store in the next two films by revealing the details of a tragedy in 1978 and 1666, it's natural to start looking for it. 1978 and 1666 bank on this exhilaration but with the second, you end up still looking for it even after the movie.
However, all is well when we see finally see the third film. 1666 is easily the best of the lot. It takes us into the world of Sarah Fier, provides more information to resolve what seeming loopholes in the first two, and ends with a big bang, all-out, well-written final act. The way it all comes together to show us the big picture is so satisfying, enough to make good with the mistakes the films have committed up and until.
In retrospect, Fear Street hits the mark in many ways. It's good to see a formidable threat against the kids in a horror movie. It doesn't matter if you're good or evil, of Shadyside or Sunnyvale, the bully or the bullied, everybody has an equal chance of an axe to the head or a knife to the chest, or worse. Moreover, characters in this horror franchise don't die out of their stupidity, but more out of their helplessness.
Cherries on this cake are the intentional puns that the creators have sprinkled throughout: Fier (Fear), Goode (Good), Carrie (The reference to Stephen King's novel, becomes 'carry'), and so on. All three films have excelled with their background music, visuals, and performances. Kudos to Kiana Madeira for portraying two contrasting characters convincingly.
1994, 1978, and 1666 - the three films put together - do have their deficits, but hardly comes a horror franchise like this, that pulls off great things with such reliance on its script and execution. If Fear Street is considered a trade of the devil with Netflix, the deal is indeed great.