By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Kiana Madeira, Ashley Zukerman and Olivia Scott Welch
Directed by Leigh Janiak
Written by Phil Graziadei, Leigh Janiak and Kate Trefry
The backwards chronology employed by director/co-writer Leigh Janiak in her R.L. Stine-inspired triptych pays off in the final installment. FEAR STREET: 1666 pays off setups in its two predecessors, answers the questions they established in satisfying and frightening ways and also successfully flips the script regarding the tortured history of the town of Shadyside.
Following an optional (ah, the joys of streaming technology) recap of the events seen in the 1994 and 1978 FEAR STREETs, we arrive in a small Puritan settlement, ironically named Union, where many of the previous movies’ cast play new (old) roles. The 17th-century setting is convincingly conveyed but the attitudes are modern, as a group of young friends exchange coded messages about some sort of illicit gathering later that night, and Sarah Fier (Kiana Madeira), who we know is fated to play a key role in the village’s grisly legacy, and Hannah Miller (Olivia Scott Welch) are carrying on a secret lesbian affair–just as Madeira and Welch’s Deena and Sam do in ’94. This duality in the casting both helps to tie this movie together with its predecessors thematically, and in a few cases creates expectations about certain characters’ survival that are then wickedly thwarted.
That outing proves to be a late-night visit to the home of local Widow Mary, who is rumored to be a witch and to have some hallucinogenic berries in her possession. The encounter between Sarah and the Widow hints at occult leanings in the former, who has already been told by another townsperson that he “sees the darkness” in Sarah. And yet when pestilence and worse begin to plague the settlement, it is the discovery of Sarah and Hannah’s affair that leads them to be branded as the “witches” responsible, and the rest of the town turns against them. The persecution drives Sarah to consider making an actual deal with the devil to save herself and her beloved, as FEAR STREET: 1666 plumbs the intriguing theme of accusation leading an innocent to resort to the very behavior she’s being falsely accused of.
This trilogy has been mining contemporary themes from the start, and yet in 1666, Janiak and co-scripters Phil Graziadei and Kate Trefry don’t strain for relevance or make obvious connections to modern times. Those comparisons speak for themselves, as the filmmakers concern themselves with taking us back to familiar sites as they first played a part in the area’s horrific history, and revealing the origins of key touchstones from the first two FEAR STREETs. These revelations are smartly ticked off amidst a scenario that also has plenty of room for scary stuff of its own, including a truly horrifying scene in the settlement’s church, and the heartfelt portrayal of Sarah and Hannah’s beleaguered romance. The performances in general are strong and attuned to the change in attitude and emphasis here (even if a few of the Old World accents are a little shaky), while Caleb Haymann’s cinematography once again delivers the proper atmosphere and Marco Beltrami and Anna Drubich’s score works overtime, to sometimes powerful effect.
At about the hour mark, the movie takes a turn that puts a cheeky spin on FEAR STREET’s film-franchise status, and sets the stage for a resolution of the near-six-hour saga that feels both consistent and earned. All in Shadyside is not as it has appeared up to this point, and the saga’s endgame adds extra intrigue to its plot and depth to its study of good and evil. FEAR STREET: 1994 began with an almost jovial attitude toward its mayhem, FEAR STREET: 1666 is more deadly serious, and Janiak and her writers have pulled off the transition with significant success. More cinematic visits to FEAR STREET from this team, please!