dir. Leigh Janiak.
When we last saw Deena (Kiana Madeira) she was crouched over the bones of Sarah Fier – the notorious Shadyside witch whose curse on the local community has driven countless people to become serial killers during the 300 years since her execution. Deena had been trying to reunite Sarah’s body with her severed hand – said to have been struck off when she made a deal with the devil: but when a nosebleed causes Deena’s blood to drip on Sarah’s grave, she is teleported back into the body of Sarah herself, reliving the events of 1666 which lead to her notorious execution.
It was a brazen cliff-hanger for preceding chapter 1978, and marks the starting point of this, the final and best entry in Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy. By having Deena cast back in time (though it soon becomes clear that she is experiencing events through Sarah’s eyes rather than having time-travelled herself) it forces audiences to re-evaluate all that has come before: for where the previous two instalments were at times guilty of homage to the point of pastiche, here there is a thrilling sense of having hit the headwater of the mythology, where all the tropes, trappings and lore we had previously taken as red and even rolled our eyes at is suddenly questioned, thrown into the light and examined with unflinching impartiality.
This is helped in large part by a dramatic shift in tone: where 1994 and 1978 were heavily indebted to Scream and Halloween-era slashers, here director Janiak channels Robert Eggers’ The VVitch: the setting is Union – the pilgrim settlement that will one day be divided into rival towns Sunnyvale and Shadyside – a small village divided between hopeful teens planning late-night revelries and their disapproving, Puritan elders. There’s also rumours of a “hag” in the woods – an outcast that some do business with on the sly – but perhaps more alarming is the barely concealed misogyny bubbling beneath the surface: the village drunk spouts mad, woman-hating prophesies, and lecherous men make midnight advances. It’s clear that long before supposed occult goings-on that there is something rotten in the heart of Union, where diversity and individuality are despised.
It’s also surprisingly moving, a heavy weight of legacy hanging over even the most tender of moments. We already know that Sarah will be tried and killed as a witch, but seeing her journey track is both heart-breaking and deft. True, as with the previous films sometimes the script is blunt to the point of being didactic, but for the most part Janiak demonstrates a grace and sensitivity that imbues everything with a tragic, sublime sense of longing. It’s a mood also helped by the recasting of principle performers from the previous films: Olivia Scott Welch, Sadie Sink, Benjamin Flores Jr. and Ashley Zuckerman, among many others, all return (and – along with Madeira – are universally excellent), playing new roles which hint at the truth that people grow from the soil of generations past, and that our ancestors were just as human as we with their own hopes and fears and failings.
Furthermore the film’s second half pulls off a coup d’état which – no spoilers here – manages to resolve the entire trilogy in the most satisfying of sweeps. Again there are moments where some heavy-handedness remains – something all the more jarring given the delicacy of earlier sequences – but it is not enough to sour the fact Janiak brings Fear Street in to land as a rousing success: a saga which manages to be ambitious, nostalgic and – at times in this closing entry – profound.