None of this comes together without a confident storyteller, and that’s where Janiak’s skills kick in. It’s almost like her style becomes even sharper as the story goes along—at first the ’90s needle drops are aggressively crammed in (“Insane in the Membrane” is jammed next to “Creep”), and the hyperactive editing is busy more than it is clever as it takes us from one frantic conversation to the next. But “1994” strikes a great balance between building backstory and tying it into the chaotic present-day: the mythology settles in, and the movie focuses on lean and extra mean thrills that include a couple of excellent slasher set-pieces in the high school and a grocery store, all with an expressive, playful lighting palette. The most fun parts of “1994” display a strong balance of the brutal and the playful, and yet while its energy is a developing charm of the series, it’s the overall tone created by Janiak that’s the most impressive.
“Fear Street Part One: 1994” offers a few changes to slasher tropes—perhaps most of all that it transparently cares about its characters, these teenagers who just want to get through the night alive and in general have been underestimated. The script by Janiak and Phil Graziadei gives a strong balance to both the moments in which they’re running for their lives and when they are trying to figure out parts of themselves, especially in the arc of Deena and Sam, which effectively tugs at the heartstrings. In the same breath, the series loves the young sexuality of its characters, and doesn’t treat gettin’ some as a death sentence, as the commandments of slasher movies are known to do. It also doesn’t look at Kate and Simon’s hustle—selling pills—as a reason they should be punished, but as an extension of their struggle and savviness. All of this enriches “Fear Street Part One: 1994,” and makes it more interesting during a tightly executed second half.
And then, as happens in slashers but in a way that feels particularly intense here, the body count suddenly piles up, and the film’s terror becomes all that more immediate. It may not be as scary as its cumulative jump scares and wall-to-wall orchestral score hint, but the investment in everyone’s safety is not be underestimated. It’s a full cast of rising young stars, like “Stranger Things” before it, and “Fear Street” gives that palpable sense of having fun while hanging out with them, but worrying that one of them might abruptly die.
“Fear Street” looks like it’s headed to a Crystal Lake-like setting next for “Fear Street Part Two: 1978″—I proudly skipped the trailer for it at the end of “1994,” wanting to preserve any of the franchise’s upcoming mysteries, having already been sold on the series’ knack for a twist, and ability to throw a bloody party. A sneak ahead seemed like I’d cheating myself, even if a seven-day wait feels long enough.
Now playing on Netflix.
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