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Too much of anything is never good, and the end of Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy confirms that. The third and last of Leigh Janiak’s ambitious trio of films, titled Fear Street Part 3: 1666, takes us back to the 17th century to uncover the root of Shadyside’s problems. This bloated finale (running almost two hours long) perfunctorily ties up the narrative loose ends with little finesse or energy — a shame because the earlier two entries, chock-full of pop culture references and subversive thematic underpinnings, had immense potential.
Fear Street’s conceit always felt slightly dubious: three films, each set in a different year, chronicling this ill-fated town’s macabre history in reverse chronological order. The trilogy vowed to turn the slasher genre on its head, to put historically marginalized peoples at its center and comment on big issues like intergenerational trauma, class and sexuality.
Fear Street Part 3: 1666
Airdate: Friday, July 16 (Netflix)
Cast: Kiana Madeira, Ashley Zukeran, Gillian Jacobs, Olivia Scott Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr.
Director: Leigh Janiak
Screenwriters: Leigh Janiak, Phil Graziadei, Kate Trefry
The first two films, Fear Street Part 1: 1994 and Fear Street Part 2: 1978, delivered on enough of these promises to make them worth watching — the former subverting genre expectations, the latter reveling in gore and bloody murder. The third, unfortunately, mostly feels like an obligation.
At the end of Fear Street Part 2, Deena (Kiana Madeira) and her brother, Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), return to the witch Sarah Fier’s burial site in hopes of breaking the curse and bringing back Deena’s girlfriend, Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), who has been possessed by the demonic energy rippling through Shadyside. According to legend, whoever reunites Fier’s skeletal hand with her body (they’re buried in different parts of town) could potentially end the murders in Shadyside. But when Deena does that, she’s transported to the year 1666, where she watches the events responsible for their contemporary afflictions unfold.
Janiak creates a sinister simulacrum, cleverly casting the actors from the first films as the 17th century settlers. Madeira now plays Fier and Welch her lover, Hannah Miller. The settlement, not yet divided into Sunnyvale or Shadyside, is simply called Union. Actors who played friends in the previous films appear as members of this community, and Janiak and her co-writers Phil Graziadei and Kate Trefry go as far as to have some of them utter exact lines from the first installment — an approach that showcases the director’s inventiveness and underscores the film’s broader concerns with how the past haunts the present. Madeira gives a strong performance as Fier, and McCabe Slye (who played Tommy Slater in Part 2) as Mad Thomas, the town’s fanatical self-proclaimed prophet, brings a sardonic levity to the sometimes self-serious tale.
Save for the unfortunate accents, which I couldn’t place geographically or temporally and which the performers struggled to maintain, the first half of Part 3 is a noble experiment in immersing viewers in the history of a place instead of relying on thin flashbacks. The film introduces the major figures of the town — like the exacting pastor (Michael Chandler) and loner Solomon (Ashley Zukerman), Fier’s only ally — engulfs us in local politics and gives us glimpses of daily life.
But it’s hard to feel anything more than apathy toward the Puritanical and vitriolic townspeople, whose attitudes toward difference grow redundant and tired after a while. This extended recall could have given us more than we already knew about the community, which is that they despise what they do not understand and find it easier to lament about witches than look within themselves and at each other.
It’s easy to predict what happens next when Deena returns to her body in 1994. Armed with knowledge of the real villain of Shadyside and how to stop them, she races against the clock (and the monsters chasing her and her brother) to save her city. In the car ride to the mall, where she — along with the help of C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs), the only person to survive a Shadyside massacre and the central character in Part 2 — will put a plan in place to trap the killer, Deena summarizes what she learned in the past to her brother.
The second half of Fear Street Part 3 is essentially Fear Street Part 4: 1994 (Again), with the plot picking up where the first film left off. Whatever modest thrills this section offers stem less from the revelations (which an astute viewer will have already anticipated) and more from the machinations the unlikely crew concoct to stop the zombified Shadyside serial killers pursuing them. There are some clever traps here, which I won’t spoil, and watching the gang stab and slash monsters is always a treat.
Still, by the end of Fear Street Part 3, when the mystery had been solved and justice ostensibly served, I was more relieved than anything else. It had been a whirlwind of a ride, but I was glad to be off it.
Production company: Chernin Entertainment
Cast: Kiana Madeira, Ashley Zukeran, Gillian Jacobs, Olivia Scott Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Darrell Britt-Gibson, Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, McCabe Slye, Julia Rehwald, Fred Hechinger, Jordana Spiro, Elizabeth Scopel
Director: Leigh Janiak
Screenwriters: Leigh Janiak, Phil Graziadei, Kate Trefry, R.L. Stine (story by)
Producers: Kori Adelson, Peter Chernin, David Ready, Jenno Topping
Executive producers: Timothy M. Bourne, Leigh Janiak
Director of photography: Caleb Heymann
Production designer: Scott Kuzio
Costume designer: Amanda Ford
Editor: Rachel Goodlett Katz
Composers: Marco Beltrami, Anna Drubich, Marcus Trumpp
Casting director: Carmen Cuba
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