Fear Street Part One: 1994 (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): So it begins…

Netflix film “Fear Street Part One: 1994”, the first chapter of the trilogy which was released on last Friday and will be followed by two other films during next two weeks, is a promising start packed with enough fun and horror for us. While pretty slick, witty, and playful as a genre exercise, the movie also jolts us a lot with enough blood and terror to be strewed over the screen, and you will surely have some expectation on whatever will come next after this fairly well-made product.

After the striking opening scene which is clearly influenced by Wes Craven’s classic meta-slasher film “Scream” (1996), the movie quickly establishes its deliberately artificial main background. For many decades, Shadytown, a small plain town located somewhere in Ohio, has been quite infamous for a series of various serial killing incidents, and its status as “the murder capital of the United States” has been often contrasted with its affluent neighboring town Sunnyvale, which has been ironically regarded as one of the safest places in the country. According to an old legend, Shadytown was cursed by a vengeful witch who was executed by town people in the 17th century, and many people in the town believe that this witch’s malevolent spirit has been the origin of all those serial killing incidents in the town.

Anyway, the latest serial killing incident certainly adds more infamy to Shadytown, but that is not much of a concern to a local high school student named Deena Johnson (Kiana Madeira). As it is subsequently revealed to us, she was in a secret romantic relationship with a female schoolmate named Samantha “Sam” Fraser (Olivia Scott Welch), but they recently had a breakup as Sam moved to Sunnyvale along with her mother, and Deena is still trying to process her complicated feelings toward Sam. When she happens to meet Sam again, they become more estranged from each other as clashing with each other, and Deena is certainly not so pleased to see Sam letting herself involved with one of the high school athletes in Sunnyvale.

Their conflict eventually culminates to a rather unfortunate accident, and that is when things become more serious for not only Sam and Deena but also several other kids around them including Deena’s nerdy younger brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.). They all find themselves suddenly menaced by several murderous figures, and it does not take much time for them to realize that these murderous figures are under the control of that witch, whose spirit is indeed very much alive as ready to relish another bloody terror onto Shadytown.

Once it finishes establishing its background and characters, the movie, which is based on the popular book series of the same name by R.L. Stine (he is also famous for the Goosebumps series, by the way), goes all the way for fun and horror, and director/co-writer Leigh Janiack, who wrote the adapted screenplay along with Kyle Killen and Phil Graziadei, did a skillful job of balancing the story and characters between horror and comedy. While we get plenty of amusing homages and references to various horror films ranging from “Jaws” (1975) to “Halloween” (1978), the movie also gives us a number of intense and scary moments as expected, and I must confess that I winced a lot while watching a certain gruesome moment involved with a bread slicer.

Meanwhile, the movie pays considerable attention to the emotional drama between Deena and Sam. While she still resents Sam for not being franker about their romantic relationship, Deena also understands well how it is difficult for both her and Sam to be open about their relationship to others, and she eventually comes to have some honest moments with Sam as they try to survive their impending peril. At one point, they happen to have a chance to be intimate with each other again, and it is certainly refreshing to see how the movie allows its main characters to delve into their sexuality without any guilt or punishment in contrast to many other slasher flicks out there.

Besides Sam and Deena, several other characters in the film also come to us as engaging characters who gradually turn out to be more than mere plot elements. As an amateur expert on the history surrounding the town as well as the witch, Deena’s younger brother eagerly provides his older sister and others pieces of information which may help their survival, and he also shows considerable pluck just like Deena’s two close friends who happen to get involved in the situation. Around the climatic part, they are all willing to stick together along with Sam and Deena, and we naturally come to root for them more while also caring more about what will happen to them in the end.

Janiack draws good performances from her main cast members. While Kiana Madeira and Olivia Scott Welch are convincing in their characters’ rocky relationship development along the narrative, Benjamin Flores Jr., Julia Rehwald, and Fred Hechinger bring each own colorful personality to their supporting parts, and Ashley Zukerman is also fine as the sole substantial adult character in the story.

Overall, “Fear Street Part One: 1994” sets well the starting point for its trilogy, and I was entertained enough to become curious about the following second chapter, whose trailer is incidentally shown right before the end credits roll. As a seasoned moviegoer, I already have a pretty good idea of what I will get around this Friday, but I still wish I will be amused and scared as much as before at least.

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