[Review] ‘Fear Street’ is off to a gruesome start with ‘Part One: 1994’

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After three decades, Shadyside’s evil finally escapes the confines of R. L. Stine‘s Fear Street series. The most infamous town in YA literature is the setting for Leigh Janiak‘s reinterpretation, but the books’ more ardent fans may feel left out.

1994 begins with Maya Hawke‘s character being relentlessly chased in the mall by a masked assailant. Her shocking death isn’t an anomaly; Shadyside is home to a number of bizarre incidents and crimes. When the local high school hosts a vigil at an away game in the rival town of Sunnyvale, a fight erupts. The protagonist Deanna (Kiana Madeira) reunites with ex Samantha (Olivia Welch), who has since moved away after their messy breakup. The school rivalry soon gets out of hand, and Samantha ends up in the hospital after coming in contact with Sarah Fier’s gravesite. This stirs the vengeful witch and triggers a terrifying chain of events in Shadyside.

1994 draws from two major wells of teen horror. Stranger Things is the foremost influence; the drama, the stakes, and the fact that a small town’s fate rest in the hands of young people. Meanwhile, Scream‘s makeup writ large across the cold open, Janiak references one of the most taut scenes in slasher history.

With a plot so driven and dire, the characters become cogs in the machine as opposed to conductors. The development is there, but it’s pithy. Despite this, you grow attached to the cast in the long run, even though there isn’t enough time to properly flesh out Deanna and her friends. The story, while busy and better suited for a series rather than a movie, is dark and merciless.

The books had their fair share of violent moments, but Janiak raises the bar and then some. The splatter potential here is met with bloodstained enthusiasm and punctuated by memorable set pieces. One execution is so absolutely brutal, it deserves to be on a year-end superlatives list for such things. In spite of the wanton carnage, though, 1994 does not kill without remorse. Two of the biggest deaths are shocking and emotional, which is a testament to the writing.

“One execution is so absolutely brutal…”

1994 isn’t alone when it comes to modern media forcing nostalgia and perpetuating inaccuracies about the decade. This is in the spirit of the nineties rather than what it was really like. The movie also can never just be alone with its thoughts thanks to an intrusive soundtrack. The ’90s hits are plentiful here, but it becomes taxing no matter how much you like the songs. Dialogue is another area where research into vernacular might have been beneficial.

Your mileage with the Fear Street movies may vary depending on your familiarity with the books. Stine’s franchise was a collection of loosely interconnected stories, but entries were more or less self-contained with only the most minor of linking elements. Janiak’s update uses the Fear Street intellectual property and setting to create her own mythos. For instance, Sarah Fier’s origin in the books is nothing like the one in 1994; she is now a witch bent on destroying Shadyside. Stine’s fans will undoubtedly have to prepare for some rampant creative license, whereas the uninformed viewers will never feel like they’re missing something.

Anyone who grew up with and devoured Fear Street may feel misled with 1994, but the trademark undoubtedly draws a crowd. The creatives found their inspiration and reinvented the story for a general audience. Although the end result doesn’t feel entirely like Fear Street, it’s still somewhere in the same neighborhood.

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