Rating: 0.5 out of 5
Horror is a disrespected genre seemingly both by critics and even by many who enjoy the craft in that to be a devotee one must remind themselves of the breadth and diversity within the catalogue. Which is why modern horror often feels stale, like recycled amalgamations of any given filmmaker’s favorite tropes, chasing highs that were once visceral pleasures but are now burnt out reserves of nostalgia and cashed aesthetics. Fear Street Part One: 1994 feigns the studious and devoted nature of a true believer in the gleeful camp of the 80’s golden age of VHS horror tapes and blockbuster franchises who garnered increasing ridiculousness and spectacle throughout their duration, in reality, however, this is cold corporate shlock with all the faux-representational branding and economics therein. This is a perfectly terrible film in the sense that it’s hilarious how much every player struggles through this material, like everyone woke up from a nap and is suddenly given direction in a horror film, each attempt at a scare is more awkward than the performers attempts at genuine connection.
The film opens with the murder of a young woman named Maya (Maya Hawke) by a skull-masked killer (later to be known as “The Skull Mask Killer” because this is a police force with absolutely zero imagination I suppose) who appeared to be her colleague and friend, losing his mind suddenly and becoming murderous. Which as it turns out is typical for the town of Shadyside, every decade or so a member of the town goes crazy and kills fellow townspeople in grizzly and brutal fashion. The film attempts to introduce a class conflict in the shape of a neighboring town Sunnyvale but most of this is hollow social commentary coming from a Netflix production, with notions of poverty as a “curse” which the film goes to great pains to establish as a parallel to the curse of the witch Sarah Fier who haunts the town. This curse is later revealed as the catalyst behind these sudden eruptions of madness amongst the townsfolk. So the film tries to imply that poverty is a sickness in the bones of the town that forces people to go crazy. That the real horror is not the violence and killings but the underlying causes of stress, anxiety and fear that lead people to be murderous. This is consistently undermined by the film’s fantasy elements and own needlessly convoluted mythology, leading many of the political musings on intersectionality and class to read as pandering, shallow and dangerously uninformed in the presumed resilience and righteousness of it’s main characters.
Within the first ten minutes of the film there are at least five needle drops prominently featuring 90’s era tunes (“Closer”, “Machinehead”, “Sour Times” to name a few, get it! 94′!) as if the filmmakers were concerned the AOL messaging boards and clunky computers wouldn’t be enough of an indication. There is one particularly egregious scene in this regard towards the beginning of the film where the protagonist Deena (Kiana Madeira in an exhaustingly earnest performance) recently dumped by her girlfriend and her brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) are walking through the hall having different experiences with their crushes, the two songs imposed on top of the other display one of the films greatest issues which is juggling the various protagonists actions and emotions at any time in conjunction with the other, often they collide incongruously both in terms of pacing and tone, either spending too much time on any group’s actions or too little.
So now the fun stuff. When I said this was a perfectly terrible film, I absolutely meant it. Ridiculous things happen in this movie. A character leaves to take a piss and miraculously ends up on a street that appears to be nowhere near the hospital he was just at and of course nowhere near anyone who could help him fend off an undead psychopath. On two different occasions there are match cuts featuring the same character where she finishes her sentence from one shot to the next and it genuinely doesn’t work. To exemplify the film’s “nuanced” portrayal of poverty one of the first lines the Maya character utters is “Since my mom used her last paycheck on scratch tickets instead of the gas bill”. And there are no parents in this film, the plot explains that away as they are all either absentee, drunk or in jail but for crying out loud they steal an ambulance without a single bit of impunity in this film and then drive it around time like it’s a damn joy ride.
This would all be fine if anyone was having fun in this movie, not even the characters within their world have a shred of happiness, self-pity and sadness are the only emotions allotted these characters, and there are hints at the resilience of poor people but this is again diminished by the films polarized sense of tone and limp political intentions. There is almost no serious gore until the films final moments and for a movie that obviously believed it had accredited some dignity to it’s characters and their situations one of them is put through bread slicer until her head is just slivers of brain and flesh, its an awesome moment but one that feels completely disjointed and at odds with everything that came before. Two films remain in this series and there’s absolutely no reason they should be any better than this one, but color me morbidly curious, I’ll gladly return to this uncomfortable and stilted world if it’s half as funny as this entry.