Let’s go back to the 1990s.

The Fear Street trilogy is something that Netflix has hyped quite a bit this summer. Three movies in three weeks all revolving around the town of Shadyside (and their relationship with sister city Sunnyvale). As you can tell by the names of the cities, creativity is turned to the max in this one.

Before we even bother with the plot, let’s talk about the setting. This film wants to be all things 1990s, but not a true reflection of the 1990s—no, instead we get nostalgia tripping here rather than any real commentary. I found it kind of funny that all of the music they chose for this film were indeed hits at the time, but we also avoided showing any artists who have since fallen from grace.

The goth/punk/alt style of the characters and their homes is bowdlerized to a cleaner and more palatable sense. We’re meant to be in Shadyside, the murder capital of the world, yet everyone here seems mostly okay. Even those who are selling drugs are doing so for the betterment of themselves or others. Honestly, this is like a weird Leave it to Beaver meets R.L. Stine cross universe with nods to just about every popular film from when I was a teenager. It is one thing to show affection for the past, it is another to directly lift scenes. I lost count of how many movies this one rips off.

Does the setting feel like the 1990s? Sort of. I think for upper-middle class folks who have a rose-tinted view of what poverty is will probably say this hits the mark. Those who weren’t in such a stratum will see this as a Disneyfied version of the past.

Anyway, let’s meet our moody teen Deena (Kiana Madeira) who is moody because she is a teen and has recently gone through a breakup with Sam (Olivia Scott Welch). Deena and her brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) are two of the most well-adjusted children to ever come out of a neglectful household it seems. Having an absent father seems to have no impact on them. I guess we just get used to shrugging things off?

Anyway, there’s a Scream type attack at a mall that leaves a few people dead (who are students) and now the school is in a tizzy. I know that Shadyside is supposed to be this brutal place to live, but from someone who remembers being in high school after Columbine, let’s just say the flippant way these events are handled made my head hurt. We end up with a brawl between Sunnyvale and Shadyside students (I guess the teachers don’t give two shits) and all this leads to a car crash where Sam bleeds on the bones of a long dead witch named Sarah Fier.

(Look, I don’t want to be a spoilsport, but the behavior of the students at a memorial who are then allowed to just go dick off back to whatever they are doing just rubbed me the wrong way. It would be one thing for them to say Shadyside is used to it, but if Sunnyvale is one of the best places in the country to live, they would flip the hell out over these events. Any student would be pilloried for this type of behavior. What pissed me off about this was that these moments so early in the narrative confirmed we aren’t actually looking at the 1990s or what high schoolers from lower social strata deal with—no, we’re watching a fantasy).

The witch is pissed and now wants to murder Sam for bleeding on her grave. Ends up the witch also just randomly possesses people to kill other people, so she’s got a goon-squad to help her do the dirty work. Deena must reconcile with Sam and with the help of her friends figure out what is happening.

For all that annoyed me with this movie it does pace itself well. We have ample upscaling in tension as the mystery is uncovered, convoluted/recovered, and then uncovered again. The whole thing will remind you of the surge of 90s horror films that it is aping overall.

One thing that strikes me as odd about this one is the rating. They went for a hard-R, but it isn’t as bloody as you’d expect. Further, I’m not sure who the audience is here. Are we aiming for teens? Are we aiming for adults who read R.L. Stine? I think they wanted to do both and smartly opted for appealing more to the latter. Honestly, the film surprised me with it being an R rating. Good on them for not mucking it up.

The film is fun but flawed. Folks wanting a callback to old slasher/horror films will find a lot to like, but they might walk away a little hungry. Unfortunately, this one had to spend too much time setting up a trilogy that it doesn’t fully work as a standalone film.

Wonder if the others will be any good.

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