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- Fear Street: Part Three – 1666
- Directed by Leigh Janiak
- Written by Phil Graziadei and Leigh Janiak, based on the book series by R.L. Stine
- Starring Kiana Madeira, Benjamin Flores Jr. and Gillian Jacobs
- Classification R; 112 minutes
- Streaming on Netflix starting July 16
Almost three weeks and three movies in, it’s unclear how many people are enjoying Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy. Typically, if the streaming giant has viewership numbers to crow about, they make some noise: 20 million subscribers watched a film’s first two minutes! Or something similarly and vaguely impressive. Maybe, at least, the films would have stayed atop Netflix’s “Top 10” queue. Even my easily excitable social-media feeds are muted on the subject. It seems that Fear Street is more a quiet cul-de-sac.
Perhaps that’s because director Leigh Janiak’s time-hopping genre pastiche has the right idea but the wrong, well, execution. By producing tributes-slash-updates to the revisionist thrills of Scream (Part One: 1994), the sleepaway-camp slasher (Part Two: 1978), and now witch-centric folk horror (Part 3: 1666), Janiak and her co-writer Phil Graziadei have proven that, yes, they’ve watched a lot of scary movies over the years. But they haven’t learned much, from a filmmaking perspective. Ultimately, Fear Street is a shiny and expensive super-cut of callbacks and needle-drops. It is cool but empty horror worship.
So, those who have thus far found the series wanting aren’t going to be surprised by the resolute meh-ness of Part Three, which acts as a version of Back to the Future: Part III. Here, Janiak zaps her characters from Part One (or at least their performers) back in time to Salem-era Ohio, where the paranoia is plentiful, as are the very shaky accents. It is here where we finally learn the truth about the witch Sarah Fier (Kiana Madeira), who long ago cursed the town of Shadyside, resulting in Part One and Part Two’s bloodbaths.
Unfortunately, Janiak’s imitation expertise hit its peak in Part One, where she was able to both ape late-career Wes Craven while reconfiguring his work for the Stranger Things fanbase. In Part Three, the filmmaker falls prey to the same problem as Part Two: her well-funded take on the work of folk-horror icons like Ken Russell, Piers Haggard and Mario Bava (with a big tip of the hat to contemporaries like Robert Eggers) is too safe, too slick, too far from gonzo.
This isn’t to say that Part Three is squeaky-PG-clean horror – I hope you like severed eyeballs! – but it does feel anticipated. This is terror sanded down to focus-group-level acceptability. Adventurous horror fans, fear not, though: Netflix has, and will keep adding, a bunch of other titles that will serve you better. Just search “Fear Street,” and see what else pops up.
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.