The first film in Netflix's Fear Street trilogy has been available to watch on the streaming platform for a while now. Although it hasn't exactly taken off, Fear Street is doing the slasher movie genre right. It's successfully subverting the self-referential trend that has plagued slasher movies for years. The result is a sort of authenticity that similar films have been sorely lacking.
How Fear Street is doing slasher movies right
Fear Street: 1994 is the first in a trilogy of films releasing on Netflix throughout July. All three movies are based on the R.L. Stine book series and revolve around the story of an ancient evil that has been terrorizing the town of Shadyside for multiple centuries. However, for the first film, much of the focus is on a group of friends who find themselves becoming the target of the said malevolent entity that has been killing people in the town for years.
As killers hunt down the teenagers, there's none of the self-referential humor and metaphorical, as well as sometimes literal, winks to the audience that has become such a staple of slasher movies.
This isn't to say that Fear Street completely ignores its genre's roots. For example, the opening sequence pays homage to Wes Craven's classic horror movie, Scream. You'd have to have lived under a rock for the better part of the past two to three decades to not know that Maya Hawke was done for as soon as she was shown closing her store on her own.
Just like Drew Barrymore, Maya Hawke was used extensively in the promotional material due to the prestige in her name. Yet, while it uses the same tactic as Scream to reel viewers in, what makes them want to dig deeper isn't something that you might have seen before.
Fear Street leans into genre tropes when it matters the most
It's difficult not to notice the blatant and obvious use of the town names in Sunnyville and Shadyside. The former is a thriving community filled with mansions and well-off families. On the other hand, the latter is the black sheep of the family, one that the media has gone as far as to refer to as the "killer capital" of the country.
To no one's surprise, Fear Street's cast of unlikely heroes all live in Shadyside, albeit with one wrinkle: lead character Deena's ex-girlfriend recently moved to Sunnyville.
Although the cast may appear to be shallow at first, the protagonists are actually quite relatable. Kate might be the perfect model student as she is both a cheerleader and the class valedictorian. However, she is also a drug dealer who is using the money she makes from her transactions to help secure her future.
There's also Simon, who subverts the himbo role by being as responsible as he is reckless. His ethics see him pulling in double shifts at work and earning employee of the month.
While the film does dramatize the emotional response of each character, it's hard not to root for them when you consider how relatable they are.
There's this snarky reply from Kate as she rebuffs Deena for chiding her for wearing a headlamp. Basically, she lets her know that she's the stupid one for not wearing a headlamp in the middle of the woods. There are plenty of things in Fear Street that other horror films can take away and use in the future. Instead of showing us characters that seem to be aware that they are in a slasher movie only to keep on doing stupid things, the characters are petrified to the point that it's humorous.
It might seem like it's done for comedic effect, but that's not true. How the characters react makes sense when you consider that it's probably how most of us would react if we were in a similar situation.
Where Fear Street starts to deviate - for the better
Subverting established genre formulas isn't easy, but Fear Street does it well. Instead of ignoring the advice of Deena's younger brother, Josh, who frequents AOL chat rooms as a tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist, the group goes along with his theory that there's much more to the killing than meets the eye.
Josh successfully ids each killer in Fear Street and helps the group deduce why the suspect is doing the killing.
Again, Fear Street does have a larger narrative at play. However, the film doesn't let the overarching story deride from the tale that the first movie is trying to tell as Sarah Fier's henchman hunt down Sam for disturbing her grave. Not to mention, the show doesn't fall into the same trappings where LGBTQ+ leads tend to die or sacrifice themselves for others. Both Deena and Sam survive by the end of the first film, complete with a relatable set of problems that haunted them all the way.
Here's hoping that the next two Fear Street films continue to avoid meta elements and craft relatable stories with characters that are easier to invest in.
Fear Street Part 1: 1994 aired on Netflix on July 2 followed by Part 2: 1978 on July 9 with Part 3: 1666 set to release on July 16.