At this point, Leigh Janiak’s Fear Street trilogy has ensured itself cult status.
It’s easy to see why.
Apart from the representational progressivism, it underlines a truth universally shared by those who’ve lived enough to know it: America—nay, the world—can be an ugly place, but it can get a whole lot uglier for us misfits. In this light, Shadyside is, indeed, the shadier side of the tracks. A town rotten with an enduring curse that seemingly punishes its people’s otherness. That’s code for everyone who doesn’t fit the mold. Pagans, in essence.
This, apparently, has always been the goal. And in Fear Street Part Three: 1666, Janiak admirably lays the entire groundwork for her loftily ambitioned, three-part horror epic. Though, in the whole, it reveals that her ambitions outweigh the film’s execution, it takes a great deal of apathy (and ignorance) to downplay 1666 achievements and what it represents to people.
I say that as a queer man myself. The last thing I want is to dull the shine of a work that puts to the fore queer characters as protagonists. And I wish that I could champion its contents as ardently as its message. However, Fear Street: 1666 has issues persisting all the way from the series’ first outing, 1994—tonally messy, first-draft screenwriting, and tiresome characters with disagreeable decisions and unfunny jokes. Really, the Konami code?
The tail-end of Netflix’s heavily marketed ‘horror film event’ picks up on the events of Fear Street: 1978, in my book the best contained story of the three. Deena (Kiana Madeira) gets a winding premonition that lets her see through Sarah Fier’s eyes, days prior her amputation and eventual murder in the 17th Century. She resides at a settlement called Union, a plot of land that would be spliced into Shadyside and Sunnyvale centuries later. Interestingly, Janiak casts the same actors from previous entries into somewhat similar roles, fueling the cyclical nature of fates and curses and tragedies.
In the same settlement lives her discreet lover, Hannah (Olivia Scott Welch), who happens to be the pastor’s daughter. Punishing as it may be to see these actors swallow up their lines in oscillating accents from supposedly Irish to straight-up New Orleanian, it’s crucial, at least for both Hannah and Sarah, to be played by the same actors that played Samantha and Deena. From obnoxious couple, Janiak ornaments the queer romance center to the series something of a star-crossed feel, against the odds. It is, at the same time, an interesting reminder that people detest what they can’t understand, regardless if you live in a post-Pagan era or…a post-Reagan era.
That underscores the falsehoods of allyship, as seen in the way that a man named Solomon (Ashley Zuckerman) keeps mum at Sarah’s unjust indictment. The exclaims of 17th Century puritans are the equivalent of 21st Century Karens, and I’m still on the fence about the kitsch with which the film accentuates this bit. What’s clear, however, is that Janiak seems to find the humor in all of it, having her film set in a historically inaccurate time period in order to unmistakably convey that 1666 is about devilry and witchcraft. I mean, it’s in the title.
This sort of glee is consistent throughout the film—or, actually, the entire trilogy. And the film comes to these short bursts of brilliance when it doesn’t labor to tie narrative threads or hammer the series’ overarching message. That explains why we leave the 1600s Union back to spend an entire hour in the early ‘90s, where Deena, Josh (Benjamin Flores, Jr.), and C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs) band together to once and for all emancipate Shadyside and its island of misfits from a cruel, centuries-old curse. Fear Street: 1994 (2), the screen jests.
The neon-drenched finale isn’t particularly thrilling or surprising. The suspense is scant, due in large part to the comparative weakness of the revealed big bad against the spate of actual mass murderers etched on the boulder. The revelations come off as meek confirmation to a ‘twist’ that the audience has long been suspecting. In the end, the root of the antagonists’ evil becomes less and less pronounced, and you wonder if it’s even worth pondering.