Leigh Janiak Crafts a Spine-Chilling And Endearing First Installment Of Netflix’s ‘Fear Street’ Trilogy

Maya Hawke in Fear Street Part 1. She is getting dragged across the floor in the film. Blue lighting baths the room and the skeleton hoodie and skull masked person is somewhat visible behind her.

The Fear Street trilogy begins with an examination of the most terrifying villain of all – generational wealth.

Spine-chilling and endearing in equal measure, Netflix’s Fear Street: Part 1 brings the gore, a 90s soundtrack that’ll fill your nostalgia tank, and a queer romance that’ll melt your cold, dead heart.

The real strength of the first installment of director Leigh Janiak’s horror movie trilogy is its exploration of real-world horrors and the evils that passed-down prosperity can ravage on those on the periphery – neatly served in a sugar-coated, blood-soaked package.

Based on R.L. Stine’s book series of the same name, the first Fear Street installment takes place in 1994 and follows a group of teens as they investigate the reasons behind the countless random killings in their town, Shadyside. Legend has it a witch is to blame, but Deena (Kiana Maderia) doesn’t have time for legends–her problems are all too real. Her father is an alcoholic, her brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) is addicted to the internet, her friends Simon (Fred Hechinger) and Kate (Julia Rehwald) are dealing drugs, and her ex-girlfriend Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) just moved to the wealthy town next door, Sunnyvale. When Sam becomes the target of the witch’s vengeance, it’s up to Deena and her friends to save her and stop the witch for good.

Fear Street: Part 1 is perfect fodder for the “movie villain/real villain” meme format. The movie villain is Sarah Fier (Elizabeth Scopel), a witch who cursed Shadyside with massacre after bloody massacre before she was executed in 1666. On its face, that’s pretty terrifying–most people would be satisfied with that. However, the real villain of this story is a little more grounded, a little more complicated, and much more sinister–it’s generational wealth.

Julia Rehwald and Olivia Welch and two others looking concerned over a newspaper.

Mysteriously, the witch’s curse brings violence and death to Shadyside, but leaves the prosperous neighbouring town of Sunnyvale unaffected. It materializes in an insidious whisper that corrupts the thoughts of good, working-class people, until they “just seem to snap,” and suddenly viciously kill everyone in their path. 

Pure evil isn’t the only force pushing Shadysiders to the brink. Deena’s father is never home, leaving her to care for her younger brother alone. Simon works day and night shifts at the grocery store. Kate deals drugs in an attempt to find a way out. The kids in Shadyside are often alone, closing up shop at late hours of the night, babysitting to score extra cash, walking back to empty homes shrouded in darkness–leaving them exposed to more than just a curse. 

Then there’s Sunnyvale. Families thrive there, and teens scoff at the problems of Shadysiders, they blame them for the tragedy that befalls Shadyside, never once considering that it could have been them. It would have been them, if they were born just a mile farther down the road, where the witch’s curse could ensnare them just as easily. Even those who leave, like Sam, can’t shake the town. Her mother struggles to keep her from her old Shadyside friends, but the witch won’t let Sam leave her past behind.

Fear Street's assailant in the skull mask and skeleton hoodie.

Maybe there are some things Sam doesn’t want to leave behind, like Deena. Deena is strong-willed, stubborn, and sure of who she is–she wears too much flannel, listens to too much Radiohead, and she loves Sam. Sam loves Deena too, but the lure of getting out of Shadyside and living an easier life is tough to resist. Their romance is the emotional core of the film, and the film has unbridled empathy for both girls and their circumstances. 

In a move rare for queer romances onscreen, the two reconcile their hurt feelings fairly early on, and despite their rather perilous conditions, both become increasingly less afraid of expressing their feelings, culminating in this glorious line: “When this is all over, I’m gonna take you on a date. We’re gonna eat cheeseburgers, and listen to the Pixies, and make out and have the best night of our goddamn lives.”

There’s something for everyone in this delicious horror romp. Whether you’re there for the young love, the meta-movie references, or the respectably gnarly kills. It’ll be interesting to see how Netflix proceeds with binge-able movies in a similar vein when the Fear Street run is done. The next two installments dig into Shadyside’s past encounters with the witch, and with so much revealed in this first film, it’s hard to see what twists they could throw our way. But if nothing else, these movies are bound to be fun – and a good reminder that generational wealth is always the villain.

Fear Street Part 1: 1994 is streaming on Netflix

by Sammie Purcell

Sammie is a news writer for Reporter Newspapers in Georgia, covering the communities of Brookhaven and Dunwoody in metro-Atlanta. She has previously written about film and television for publications such as Boston University News Service and Oz Magazine, and holds a Masters in Journalism from Boston University. For more fun insights about movies, life, or Florence Pugh’s character-defining turn as Amy in 2019’s Little Women, you can follow her on twitter @sammie_purcell8

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