Fear Street Part 1: 1994 review: A thrilling brew of carnage and hormones
The charming ensemble cast7
Katherine McLaughlin | On 02, Jul 2021
Director: Leigh Janiak
Cast: Kiana Madeira, Benjamin Flores Jr, Julia Rehwald, Fred Hechinger, Olivia Scott Welch, Maya Hawke, Noah Bain Garret
Honeymoon director Leigh Janiak has been tasked with directing a trilogy of teen horror films based on RL Stine’s Fear Street horror book series, a passion project that began when she reached out to the prolific American author on social media. The films, co-written with Phil Graziadei and the third instalment also with Stranger Things alum Kate Trefry, aren’t direct adaptations of any individual book, but are inspired by the adventures, friendships and Shadyside’s social culture as depicted in the books.
Part 1 of the trilogy is set in 1994 (the others are set in 1978 and 1666) and nods to Wes Craven’s Scream are apparent from the outset with an opening scene directly referencing the modern horror classic (Marco Beltrami, who composed the score for Scream, is also in charge of the music). However, Janiak doesn’t seem interested in imitating the meta nature of Craven’s picture, with Part 1 playing out more like an updated version of The Goonies with gore. Similar to Stranger Things, the friendships and relationships are shaded in so meticulously that you actually care when a character gets gruesomely offed.
The plot revolves around a group of teenagers who are suddenly sent on the run from a witch’s curse that unleashes a blood thirsty skull-masked slasher killer, a goth girl murderer and a lunatic with an axe. It’s up to them to work out how to break the curse – sans any adult help, of course. Thankfully, Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr), the younger brother to the story’s lead, Deena (Kiana Madeira), is up to scratch on the sinister history of Shadyside so he can fill everyone in. They are joined by Deena’s close friends, Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger), plus Sunnyvale (the posh side of town) cheerleader Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), who is also Deena’s ex-girlfriend (read: love of her life).
The charming young ensemble do a fantastic job with the material they’re given. Madeira turns in an emotive central performance, Flores Jr is credibly sweet in the conspiracy nerd role, Hechinger’s animated turn is a mix of Corey Feldman’s Mouth and a little Skeet Ulrich as he plays the fool running about in his shants. Rehwald and Welch are both confident performers even if they get the least fun roles. In their hands, the occasional naff but adorable line (“we’re gonna eat cheeseburgers and listen to the Pixies”) and unsubtle plot or theme reminders are kind of forgivable.
Aside from the excessive needle drops – a mixture of 90s music that came out pre- and post-1994 – Janiak has crafted a thrillingly bloody brew of carnage, hook-ups, hormones and queer love that plays with the theme of history repeating itself. It sets up an intriguing finale to entice the viewer to tune into the ensuing films and it’s a film that, given its 18 certificate, could appeal to American Horror Story fans, or act as a gateway for those teenagers yet to discover it.