One of my favorite book series as a teenager was R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books. That being said, I don’t remember a single detail about any of them at this point, but I was still excited to see what Netflix and director Leigh Janiak would do with Fear Street Part One: 1994 (and the upcoming parts 2 and 3). This planned trilogy will be released weekly on the streaming platform, resembling a mini-series format – and a unique way to tell this compelling horror narrative.
Part 1 features a group of teenagers who are stunned following the murder of one of their classmates at the Shadyside mall. Deena (Kiana Madeira) is actually more distraught over her recent breakup, but her brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) is quite obsessed with the town’s dark history, and what these murders add to the legend. It’s not long after that Deena, Josh, Kate (Julia Rehwald), Simon (Fred Hechinger), and Samantha (Olivia Scott Welch) find themselves being targeted…but by who, and why?
There are a lot of homages paid in this film, and it all works. The familiar tropes associated with the horror genre and the slasher film definitely get used – and effectively. Janiak clearly has studied the genre and deploys its tools in impactful ways. There is a good bit for horror fans to really appreciate in this film, including some inventive set pieces. Of course, none of those elements matter if the characters – or the performances – suck. Fortunately for us, that is not the case.
While the core five performances are all very good, Rehwald and Flores are absolute stand-outs. Again, Welch, Hechinger, and Madeira are all great, but I was absolutely sure I’d seen Rehwald in something else. Yet, she has no other credits outside of this trilogy. She has a superstar presence and uses every ounce of her charisma on the screen to make Kate an immediate favorite. Flores has been working for a while, but he also has a similar quality that made me immediately like Josh.
It is extremely important in a horror film to be able to have characters that the audience does not want to die so that tension is created and fear creeps in. This film does that easily, and that only adds to the fun of the viewing. I really enjoyed watching this, and can’t wait to check out the second part. Fear Street Part One: 1994 earns the Must See rating.