Warning: Spoilers for Netflix's Fear Street Trilogy
I know, I know. These films came out in July, isn't it a little late to be doing a review on them? Well you're right, these have been out for a little while. But since it is October, I thought now was the perfect time for me to get into the nitty-gritty of Netflix's Fear Street trilogy. Loosely based on the stories by R.L. Stine, Fear Street tells the tale of the cursed town of Shadyside, which has a history of killers that dates all the way back to the Salem witch trials. But in the year 1994, a group of teenagers will struggle to find out why their town is cursed, and what really happened all those years ago. Netflix has given these a more adult treatment than Stine's last adaptation, Goosebumps. So while these are based on the writings of a novelist who specializes in children's horror, these films went the extra mile and brought us three R-rated tales. I’ll try to do this with as little spoilers as possible. But be aware, there will be SOME. So, in the spooky spirit of All Hallow's Eve, let's jump right in!
That was good! It gave me mad Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer vibes. It didn't take itself too seriously, while also providing a tense atmosphere and solid scares. This was well directed and had a great color palette. The neon was not overused, but worked as an accent to the set dressing that immediately transports you back to 1994. As a child of the 90s, that look brought me back and gave me a sense of comfort. The acting is also quite good. Deena (Kiana Madeira) is a likable enough main character and we have some very likable side characters (Benjamin Flores Jr.'s Josh being the primary example) and some characters we can't wait to see die (I only started liking Julia Rehwald's Kate just before they killed her off).
It also opens the door for a rather interesting mystery.
Several plot points and pieces of information are left open or unaddressed in order to continue the story over two more films. Why can't these killers die? What is this curse the town has over its people? Why are they coming after Sam (Olivia Scott Welch)? How is all of this connected? All of these questions need to be answered. And that is fine, seeing as how these films were released very close to one another.
A few things irked me. I'm pretty much over the whole "overly mean high school girls" trope. It just seems like these girls go to such extremes measures to mess with each other that it's become unrealistic. Some of the writing is also extremely... unsubtle. But that's par for the course with something that's a throwback to the 1990s where subtlety was non-existent. There were some moments of weak acting, or weak dialogue, but overall I enjoyed this film more than I was expecting.
The thing this film has going for it is that it's fun. This is a throwback to slasher days of old where the kills were inventive and the scares were fun. Some who prefer more serious and dramatic horror fair like recents hits like The Witch and Hereditary will balk at the cheesiness at display here. But if you're in the mood to have fun while you're being scared, this is a solid effort. At this point in the franchise, I am looking forward to parts 2 and 3!
So Fear Street: Part 2 - 1978 was pretty good. Definitely another loving homage to slashers of old, this time turning to 80s classics such as Friday the 13th, The Burning, and Sleepaway Camp. The directing was a little stronger this time around, giving us less awkward editing and stronger performances. The film also did expand upon the mythology and mystery in interesting ways. The hulking, moving mass under the ground is a gross new addition to the mythos, and we get to see the creation of one of our main killers from Part One.
However, I didn't like the characters nearly as much this time around.
Actually, I pretty much hated all the characters except the two main sisters (Ziggy, played by Sadie Sink, and Cindy, played by Emily Rudd). Most of the new characters came across as too big of jerks to truly enjoy spending time with them. I get it, we're supposed to cheer when they die, but you have to at least make them entertaining to watch until they do get killed. Alice (Ryan Simpkins) had a decent arc, but she was so mean in the beginning that it left a bad taste in my mouth. Yet again we have the trope of the overly mean girls, and as I mentioned above, I’m done with it. I was also upset that multiple innocent kids got killed BECAUSE of jerky kids while those same jerks survived. I love when these movies kill the jerks, not the innocent. That's part of the rules with these older slashers: the jerks die horribly. That didn't happen here. But I have a feeling that element might be explored in the 3rd film, so I won’t be too harsh on it just yet.
In addition, I thought the film could have been more creative with its kills than it was. I get that the killer uses an axe so most of the kills will include that, but I just think they could have been a little more inventive than they were. Most of them just boiled down to: chopped in the head with and axe, chopped in the chest with an axe, chopped in the back with an axe, etc. Why not have the killer lift someone and throw them down on the axe? Why not a couple dismemberments? There is a lot they could have done and it seems they took the easy route with some of these death scenes.
I also didn’t realize that the identity of adult Ziggy (played wonderfully by Gillian Jacobs from Community) was supposed to be a twist.
The second we flashed back to 1978 and we saw Sadie Sink, I forgot she told the kids her name was Christy in the beginning and just assumed she was Ziggy. For some reason it was obvious to me, so when the “reveal” happened I was left sitting there going “Ummm duh! Why is this being made into a thing? Was it not obvious?” So that was kind of odd. I don't see the point in having that twist.
We also didn’t get any forward momentum on the present day storyline at all except for in the very final few minutes, so I really hope the 3rd picks that up and continues with simultaneous action happening in two time periods. As of right now, it’s a little hard justifying this entire film being a flashback. But that is also something that may change depending on the 3rd film, so I’ll hold off complete judgement in that area for later as well.
So due to my dislike of multiple characters, lack of truly inventive kills, and the little momentum on the main storyline, I did find this one a little less enjoyable than the first film, although it was still a good second part. Not a BAD horror film by any means. I just think it could have been stronger. But still, this film has me looking forward to seeing how everything comes together in Part 3!!
This one is immediately the most serious, and that immediately turns me off. The first two films had a sense of fun running throughout them. And all of that has disappeared in the beginning of this third film. Now it’s all about the message. Which is a real bummer. The first two were jolly horror films. This one is very serious. We have dark characters who scheme and plot to harm each other for petty reasons. It's a sad and dark look at the world. And to that end, the production feels much more serious than our last two films.
By flashing back to 1666, Deena (our main character from Part One, who you probably forgot about) sees that Sarah Fier was an innocent woman who's sexual preferences didn't match with the puritanical town's views. She was murdered as a witch for love. Aww. Murdered by the ancestor of the current sheriff of the town. Less aww. The mob mentality is scary and points to a serious problem in society when one gives in to the rhetoric of the extreme.
But sadly, this is now an agenda movie.
The first two films had themes and characters that pointed to a certain viewpoint, but didn't outright say what that viewpoint was. And that is totally fine. But when the message overtakes the story, that's when you run into problems. I don't watch films to be taught a lesson. Especially when it comes in the form of such a wooden and awful speech like the one featured at the end of this film. Oof. And the "power of love" moment was extremely cringe. No one likes being beaten over the head with a message, regardless of the type of film or the message being said.
About 50 minutes into the film, we FINALLY switch back to our present day (1994) storyline. Wow.
This makes Part Three essentially two separate films stuck together. And the deadly serious first half clashes with the return to the neon lit, fun, cheesiness of the 1990s in the back half. No wonder the pacing in this film hurts so much. The first hour is extremely slow and feels almost like a full movie on it's own. That's because of the clash in tone between the years 1666 and 1994.
Why this film didn't intercut between the two stories is beyond me. That would have engaged our 1994 characters sooner, combined and meshed the tones better, and could have even added tension to certain scares by changing time periods at a moment of danger.
The good news is that when this film finally does pick up on the 1994 storyline, the fun returns.
The “wanna kill the sheriff?” line was wonderful and gave me a much needed laugh after suffering through such a dour first hour. The film has some very clever moments in this back half, particularly the idea to "Carrie" the sheriff. There was also great fun in watching all of the killers attack and murder each other.
There are some odd gaps in logic. Like, how does the sheriff know that the kids are aware of certain things? Can Calvin Klein actually mask the scent of the blood coursing through a person's veins? These teenagers from 1666 sure do have modern sounding dialogue. And, is the Devil aware of all of this that's happening? What does he think about these mindless idiots representing his divine evil? Actually, I had a ton of lingering questions left over after watching this third installment. About this film, and the previous ones. But mainly:
What the Hell is up with that big hunk of flesh?
I know it brings the killers back, but it was created as part of Sarah's original deal, so it existed before any of these undead killers. So what exactly is it? Is it the heart of the Devil and it gets bigger the longer the deal remains? The sheriff said that the mass was "cultivated". And touching it gave him visions of the victims: the blood that made it grow. So, would destroying that thing not stop everything? Why did no one try that?
Oh, and the reveal of the identity of the girl on the computer was weak sauce. They should have made her relevant instead of just tacking her on at the end
So all that said, Part Three: 1666 was not quite as strong an ending as I was hoping for. The film focuses too much on shoving its equal love message down the audience's throat and not enough time tying up all the supernatural loose ends from the previous films. The first half is dreadfully slow, and murders the fun you had in the last two films. Thank God that last half switched over. The back half is quite enjoyable and features some very funny moments and clever character ideas. But the fact that I had to wait that long to have fun is a real disappointment.
I do not think this story needed to be three films. The entire second film is a flashback and does nothing to progress the 1994 storyline in any meaningful way. And the deadly serious first act of the third film not only takes away from the fun-filled finale, but tries to hammer down a message that was already in plain view to begin with.
I personally think that a different approach would have helped. Either intercut both the second and third films, with storylines progressing in 1994 and the flashback times simultaneously; or have the second film feature both the 1978 and 1666 storylines. Then wrap everything up in a third film that is set entirely in 1994.
This trilogy also neglects to give clear answers to many of the lingering questions about the mythology. But that fact combine with the cliffhanger ending means that we are almost certain to get another film; perhaps another whole trilogy. I just hope that they learn from this one.
However, it is not all bad here. The throwback nature of the films is enjoyable and the kills are bloody. The color pallet of the first, and half of the third film is great, and the films have a (mostly) fun atmosphere. They're self aware enough to laugh at themselves (again, mostly). Enjoy, as long as you don't expect anything groundbreaking. These are cheesy, fun horror films. They have a lot of blood and style, and not much else. And sometimes, that's okay. That brings my overall trilogy score to: