‘Fear Street Part 1: 1994’ is a Pitch Perfect 90s Slasher with a Twist

Netflix’sFear Street Trilogy debuts this week with Fear Street Part 1: 1994, and as far as this reviewer is concerned it’s a grand slam.

Obviously set in 1994, the film sets up the story of Shadyside, a town plagued by inexplicable metaphorical darkness, a supernaturally influenced past, and very real murder. After a new series of killings takes place, Deena (Kiana Madeira), her ex-girlfriend Samantha (Olivia Scott Welch), and her tight-knit group of friends find themselves caught in a trap, hunted by supernaturally powered killers bent on their death.

Fear Street wastes no time jumping into the action. With an opener reminiscent of the first Scream cranked up to 11, it sets the blood splatter quotient to a high bar without ever resorting to excess–and unnecessary–gore. Don’t misunderstand, there is plenty of gore to be found, but none of it feels like gore for gore’s sake. The film’s 90s horror DNA is apparent from the sets to the costumes and beyond, and it is all the better for it.

Director Leigh Janiak has been on my radar since her excellent 2014 debut film Honeymoon. While the two films couldn’t be further apart on the surface, they can both be distilled to stories about relationships. Here she graduates to more complexity, exploring multiple relationship dynamics with alacrity. For directors, the proof is in the performances, and Janiak and her cast both rise to the occasion.

Madeira and Welch give convincing, sometimes heart-wrenching, performances as Fear Street Part 1: 1994‘s central couple. This is a sub-plot we’ve seen before. Some would argue it’s the only way some writers in Hollywood know how to write younger people in LGBTQ+ relationships. Two young queer people trying to deal with coming out while also confronting angry parents and high school pressure. One is more comfortable in who they are than the other. The relationship is tense because of that.

The fact that these two can make that sub-plot feel somewhat fresh is a testament to their abilities.  They have an instant chemistry onscreen that tugs at the audience. We want to see them together, which obviously raises the stakes when the horror begins.

Olivia Scott Welch and Kiana Madeira in Fear Street Part 1: 1994

In supporting roles, Julia Rehwald is on point as the class valedictorian who also happens to deal drugs to help her fellow Shadysiders cope with a town that is constantly waiting for its next psychopathic killer to emerge. Benjamin Flores, Jr. is the polar opposite. He is sweet and quiet and nerdy without being a total stereotype. He loves his dial-up internet, his chat-forums, and his old-school knowledge of the town’s history. He is the occasional breath of fresh air that the film needed to keep it on track.

Then there’s Fred Hechinger as Simon. Simon is a young man on the edge. Of what, you ask? I’m not even sure he knows. He’s the group’s wildcard and I loved the way the actor attacked this role. He’s the friend you have that always does the thing you least expect him to do who is somehow simultaneously responsible and totally inept. Though it’s jarring at first, once the film finds its feet, the actor and his character easily become a favorite.

If Fear Street Part 1: 1994 is any indication, we’re in for a lot of fun and no little terror through the remainder of this trilogy. The mood is fun but frightening and it was honestly more intense than I expected for an adaptation from the work of R.L. Stine. The best part is that we don’t have to wait months or years for the sequel to this tale. Fear Street Part 2: 1978 debuts on Netflix on July 9th with Part 3: 1666 on the docket for July 16th.

For those interested, Netflix released a clip for the first five minutes of the film. I won’t post it here to avoid spoilers, but if you want to watch CLICK HERE. Otherwise, check out the trailer and check out Fear Street Part 1: 1994 this Friday, July 2nd on Netflix!