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Fear Street Part 1: 1994 (2021) - Movie Review

Fear Street Part 1: 1994 (2021) - Movie Review
7 10

PLOT: Inspired by the books by R. L. Stine, A group of teens must work together to defeat an ancient evil that has been causing a series of murders in their quaint little town since the 1600s.

LOWDOWN: I was raised on R. L. Stine, with his Goosebumps series, being integral to my horror-obsessed childhood. I must confess that the first time I heard of Fear Street was when I saw the trailer for the Netflix mini-series. After some digging, I found that somehow I missed out on a harder-edged R. L. Stine, which would have been right up my alley as a kid. But this three-part series isn't based on any of those novels but more influenced by them. An original story told within the world Mr. Stine created. So this review can only comment on the Netflix original without any deep dive into the book series of the same name. Like I always say, pour 'em if you got 'em, and join me on part one of three as we dig into Netflix's newest limited series, Fear Street Part 1: 1994 (WATCH IT HERE). Oh, and there will be a few minor spoilers ahead.

The story opens up in the local Shadyside mall, where a masked killer takes out a couple of unlucky teens who are doing what most reasonable folks consider a literal hell, the closing shift in retail. Director Leigh Janiak sets up the style, tone, and pacing within this opening scene with a vigorous stab. We jump to the next day and get introduced to the leading group of teens whose adventure we will follow from here on out. Deena (Kiana Madeira) is the no-bullsh*t lead who has a chip on her shoulder ever since she was dumped by her cheerleading ex-girlfriend Samantha (Olivia Welch). Deena's younger brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) plays the "Randy" character, who knows that things aren't right and seems to understand the general rules of the evil plaguing the town. Together they join up with local drug dealers Simon (Fred Hechinger) and his babysitting partner Kate (Julia Rehwald) to end the curse on the town once and for all.

Overall, Fear Street Part 1: 1994 works at setting up the villain(s), the world, and the rules that sustain it. This isn't the most original concept, but I must admit that Fear Street wears its heart on its sleeve and doesn't hold back on giving us a retro slasher that perfectly represents the vibe of the time. Oh, and I just formed a few new wrinkles on my forehead because '90s slashers are officially retro. Kill me, please. Though an homage, this does lean a bit too far into Scream territory, with the mall opening being a copy and paste job of Drew Barrymore's scene. Yet I still found it exciting to see what a Gen Z adaption would look like, and that's essentially what this first episode is, a '90s slasher filtered through a Gen Z lense only with better gore, as the mainstream horror of that era was too damn tame.

The mythology setup is intelligent and full of potential. We get a supernatural curse executed through a grisly spree of murders in the style of '90s slashers for the pilot episode. Since Shadyside is the town that ties everything together, this wisely spreads out the action to multiple locations. Fear Street Part 1: 1994 is snappy with the pacing, and jumping around town makes for a fun R-rated adventure. Though Deena and Samantha are the main focus and drive the story, I'm all about nerdy and sweet-hearted Josh, along with the fabulous duo of Kate and Simon. These three deliver on the charm and laughs while being the most likable of the bunch. Samantha is the real focus, and so we need a love story to tie into because, reasons? But to me, her arc was balanced by Josh and Benjamin Flores Jr's scene-stealing performance.

Not everything works here, as the first act is surprisingly clucky. Things tighten up and shift into the right gear by the forty-minute mark, but before that, Fear Street Part 1: 1994 is a bit cringy. My biggest gripe is that as much as I dig the retro style and overall homage to the slashers of the '90s, why are we making the same mistakes that movies like Scream were so inventive for pointing out? A few character choices bordered on parody matched with dialogue that may be hip now but will age like milk in about a year. The love angle felt forced, and though I believe it's well-intentioned, the love chemistry between Kiana Madeira and Olivia Welch didn't work. I'll freely admit that trying to convince me of true love between two high schoolers is a tough sell; I also think that Fear Street was going for a romantic connection closer to the Before trilogy when it should have aimed for something akin to The Breakfast Club.

And then there are the needle drops. F*ck me, but this may be the costliest Netflix series ever made. The amount of '90s music used in succession had me audibly laugh out loud. Imagine Fear Street is Henry Hill from Goodfellas, the butt of his gun is the 90s music samples, and the creep who tried to sexually assault Karen Hill is the audience. You get beaten down hard with the music here. But I will give credit for using the deep-cut single "The Day I Tried To Live" by Soundgarden. I would have loved to hear "Mailman" instead, but "The Day I Tried To Live" will do just fine.

GORE: Fear Street Part 1: 1994 does not hold back. I won't ruin the kills, but I will say that they are brutal and surprising.

BOTTOM LINE: Fear Street Part 1: 1994 has an awkward start but finds its footing not too long after and delivers the goods in all the right ways. A blood-soaked neon nod to the '90s, when things hit, they hit hard. This is a solid introduction to a world worth exploring, along with a mythology that I'm dying to dig into with parts two and three. Just know that this doesn't quite figure itself out until the second act, and you're sure to enjoy what comes after.

FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 Is releasing globally on Netflix on July 2, 2021.

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