Fear Street Cliché Lane
Fear Street is a mess. That pains me to write because I’m a huge R.L. Stine fan. I’ve unashamedly read every Goosebumps book, devoured the 90’s series growing up and dived into both Point Horror and Fear Street during my childhood. But Netflix’s latest opener in this penned trilogy is a complete and utter tonal clash that unfortunately doesn’t work.
Looking at the source material, Fear Street is a book series made for young teens. While Goosebumps was tailored for younger audiences, Fear Street felt more daring with gore, death and spookier scenarios.
Much like the books, Fear Street takes place in the fictional town of Shadyside, an area infamous for a storied and bloody history of murders. In fact, it’s constantly referenced as the murder capital of the US. All of these deaths have gone unexplained too, repressed by the community and remembered through some ominous nursery rhymes.
After an opening killing at a mall, where a young girl called Heather is murdered by her friend Ryan, we cut forward to 1994. Rumours are abuzz over the killer’s identity, with a bunch of young teens believing this is the result of the witch, Sarah Fier. According to legend, she placed a curse on the town back in 1666 before she was executed for witchcraft.
At the center of this bubbling conspiracy is Deena Johnson, who finds herself in teen angst city. Friends Kate and Simon are selling drugs while her brother Josh spends all of his time messaging his “queen” on chat.
As the movie progresses, the teens scramble to avoid being killed and put a stop to this perceived curse on the town – and themselves.
As far as slashers go, Fear Street’s story is relatively predictable but given this is only Part 1, the other two movies do look like they’re going to dive a lot more deeply into the lore and background regarding these characters and the town. for now, we’ll reserve judgment until the entire story has been played out. There’s definitely some glimmers of hope when it comes to the storyline.
Where 1994 slips up though is with its tone. Given the earlier mention of this series being designed for young teens, the movie keeps that faithful background but then bludgeons in an 18 rating rife with swearing, graphic violence, sex and blood to try and give it the feel of an adult IP. It’s absolutely bizarre and at times completely contradicts what the film feels like it’s trying to do.
If this movie toned down some of its swearing and restrained on the blood, this could play out as a fun 12 pre-teen slasher. As an 18 though this film will need to be judged alongside other heavy-hitters in this genre like Scream and Halloween. Fear Street doesn’t even come closer to either of those IPs.
Instead, Fear Street tries to lean into the 90’s nostalgia and tropes of the genre, smashing you across the face with audible blasts from the past. Sure, it may work sparingly but here it feels completely over the top and an almost cynical grab to keep you engaged rather than a genuine nostalgic hit.
This is also reflected with the characters too, who neither act nor feel like players ripped from 1994. There’s a same sex romance here which is definitely welcome but the film never makes it an integral part of the plot, while others use slang terms completely “out of whack”, only to never mention the term again.
The cliched character acting and the contrived, stupid decision making is fine – after all it’s a hallmark of this genre – but the film makes no attempt to actually make its characters likable. With the exception of a few, almost everyone in this feels insufferable to watch. I get that this is the point with slashers, to an extent, but when your protagonist falls foul of this then you have a problem.
That’s to say nothing of the numerous plot holes and weird motivations that betray character development handled early on. Ultimately, all of this comes around to the main point I’m trying to make here. Fear Street should have been a 12 rating slasher.
All the hallmarks are here for a fun flick for pre-teens but instead Fear Street Part 1: 1994 puts on its big boy pants and falls foul of every cliché and trope in the book. Instead of traveling into Fear Street what we get instead is a dull trip down clichéd slasher lane.