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Take your pick from the bonkers smorgasbord of young adult and horror influences in Fear Street, a film trilogy hitting over the next three Fridays (all three are out now). Fancy Starcourt Mall from ? The guilty pleasure gore of ? hooded executioners?
Fear Street Part One: 1994, the first of the based on popular novels by R.L. Stine, starts off with an homage to Wes Craven’s 1996 horror classic: a phone rings and a young woman — played by Stranger Things star Maya Hawke — picks it Shut Up Sex (https://shutupsex.com). A cat-and-mouse chase with a masked killer ensues.
Later, you discover the main concern is a centuries-spanning supernatural mystery, taking us backward in time to 1978 and 1666. These parts of the trilogy will feature different characters, starring for example Stranger Things alumni Sadie Sink, as well as some of the earlier cast, filling the story with as many haunting echoes as possible.
Part One is a stressful experience, but probably not for the right reasons. The loud strings-based score, along with choppy cuts and gory deaths, serve up an excess of eye-candy to demand your attention (a shock head-based kill near the end really raises the bar).
It can be disorientating, the high-adrenaline slasher forgoing the padding of silence and suspense. It leans closer to the horror side of the comedy-horror equation, but horror fans will barely blink at the jump scares and the rest might be left wanting a little more from the unconventional teen heroes.
Where brought Dani and Jamie, Fear Street brings Deena and Sam, their love story facing obstacles in the form of homophobia, class struggles and — oh yeah, a mass murderer paying visits to suburban houses.
Kiana Madeira — from Netflix’s YA series Trinkets — is Deena, a pessimistic, broken-hearted teenager living on the wrong side of the tracks in Shadyside, Ohio. Olivia Welch — recently starring in Video’s YA series Panic — is Sam, a repressed cheerleader living in Sunnyvale, one of the safest and wealthiest communities in the country. Or so it seems.
Leigh Janiak, who directs all three installments, tackles Part One with high energy, headbanging to a ’90s soundtrack featuring Garbage, Radiohead and Pixies. The film wears the ’90s on its grungy, unkempt sleeve. Sex, bloody deaths and big, dramatic moment after big, dramatic moment can overstimulate the senses. You might need to break a cardinal horror rule and hide to recover.
You kind of want to spend more time with Deena and Sam, whose relationship is the connective tissue of the trilogy. The recently-split pair are reunited when Deena drops off a box of Sam’s things. Sam has moved on to boyfriend Peter — but don’t worry, a love triangle storyline won’t be chasing you with a chainsaw. The central pairing is also more grounded and real than their descriptions suggest. That comes across in the engaging performances from Welch and especially Madeira, who plays Deena with an honesty that undercuts the flashier, neon-hued elements.
Rounding out the Scooby gang is Deena’s nerdy little brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), whose stash of old newspaper clippings featuring murder and witches comes in handy; and «druggies» Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger), who sell pills just in the meantime, before they leave «Shittyside.»
Despite setting up the rivalry between the rich and poor towns, the film’s themes trickle alongside the main action, pooling before they turn into anything like meaningful commentary. There are mentions of Deena’s struggles with her alcoholic father and we glimpse the broad strokes of Sam’s oppressive and conservative mother, but when you’re running from masked killers, there’s no time to dig into the demons in your head.
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Giving a modern spin to the books published throughout the ’90s, the first part of this R.L. Stine adaptation brings sympathetic characters who deserve a cathartic happy ending. Thankfully, the next installments are a week apart. Enough time to recover from Part One’s eye-bulging energy drink and look forward to what spin Janiak brings to the earlier eras.
All parts of Fear Street are out now.