Movie Review ~ Fear Street Part Three: 1666

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The Facts:

Synopsis: In 1666, a colonial town is gripped by a hysterical witch-hunt that has deadly consequences for centuries to come, and it’s up to teenagers in 1994 to try and finally put an end to their town’s curse, before it’s too late..

Stars: Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Ashley Zukerman, Fred Hechinger, Julia Rehwald, Jeremy Ford, Gillian Jacobs, Emily Rudd, McCabe Slye, Sadie Sink, Ted Sutherland, Jordana Spiro, Michael Chandler

Director: Leigh Janiak

Rated: R

Running Length: 114 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  OK – here we are in the final week of Netflix’s bam-bam-bam release schedule for a trilogy of scary releases based on the books of R.L. Stine.  Inspired by that author’s phenomenal roster of slim novels for young adults that everyone had tucked in their Jansport backpacks during the late ‘80s and ‘90s, the movies were pitched as an event saga for July and after the first two weeks I can say that I was truly looking forward to the final chapter.  Unlike Part One and Part Two, Netflix made press wait a bit longer to take in Part Three, likely to keep some of the more revealing spoilers at bay, but you know I wouldn’t dare dampen your fun.  With that in mind, if you haven’t yet seen either previous film you should steer clear of my review below because we’ll be covering the events of both movies.

Are you sure you want to go forward?

You’ve watched Part One: 1994?

You’ve come back safely from Camp Nightwing? (Part Two: 1978?)

OK…we’re a go for Part Three: 1666.

Some weeks back I expressed a gnawing trepidation in my review of the first in the Fear Street trilogy, set in 1994, feeling that by the end I wasn’t sure how the subsequent two films would continue to hold viewer interest.  That original film covered a lot of exposition that gave viewers a pile of backstory and overall history of the towns of Shadyside and Sunnyvale and the supposed witches curse that has haunted the land for over three hundred years.  With Sunnyvale and its citizens prospering with horrible things happening to those in Shadyside, by 1994 it’s just accepted that the less popular province is simply the epitome of the wrong side of the tracks.  After another killing spree puts the town on edge and high school flames Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) become involved with the witch’s curse, they watch as their friends fall victim to a bevy of resurrected killers from the past.

Thankfully, Part One was just an entertaining bit of groundwork that set the stage for the larger framework constructed during Part Two.  Fashioned as more of a summer camp slasher movie than an outright continuation of the story that began in Part One, the 1978-set film was quite fun as we saw a possessed axe-wielding killer with a face covered by a burlap sack hack his way through the camp on a rampage.  With only two once-bickering sisters to stop him, their sacrifice leads back into the 1994 present where Deena makes a connection to a time even further back than a previous decade.  As we saw at the end of Part Two, by making contact with the earthly remains of Sarah Fier, Deena now has a psychic bond and is able to “see” the part of the Shadyside/Sunnyvale creation story they haven’t been teaching in school.

This origin story forms the basis for most of Part Three and once again director Leigh Janiak and her co-screenwriter Phil Graziadei have brought in a third, Kate Trefry, to help flesh out some of the finer story points.  I’m so interested to see what the writing process for this was like because while there have been new writers on each film, there’s a collective voice and through line that has given them all a consistency and coherence.  While we’ve seen these stories of a person transported back in time a million times before, this isn’t that.  Deena isn’t “Deena” in the past, she actually “is” Sarah living her life.  For all we know, everyone else is “seeing” the real Sarah Fier (Elizabeth Scopel) and we are only seeing the actress playing Deena because that’s a character/actress familiar to us.  That’s also why actors from previous films (I’m not saying who) pop up, sometimes as veiled nods to who they play in earlier entries.  Perhaps this suggests their family line predestines them to certain behavior…

Janiak and her writers clearly have thought this one out because while the solution becomes readily apparent upon the appearance of another modern-day character, it’s well-explained and carried forward when the timeline inevitably jumps again.  When that happens, it’s another brilliant piece of ingenuity (and a clever way for Janiak to actually break the movie into a tetralogy right under our noses) and keeps the final act energy hurtling forward at breakneck speed.  It does get a little Home Alone-y but I almost wouldn’t have wanted it any other way – it’s all in keeping with the spirit of all three films.

What fun this series has been and who knows, perhaps another project like this could get made and readied for next summer. While this wasn’t based on a particular R.L. Stine Fear Street book by name, there are definitely a long list of titles that could be chosen from if they needed inspiration for the future.  They’d have to have this trilogy to contend with though, one that starts off strong and only gets better as it goes along.

Movie Review ~ To the Stars


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Under small town scrutiny, a withdrawn farmer’s daughter forges an intimate friendship with a worldly but reckless new girl in 1960s Oklahoma.

Stars: Kara Hayward, Liana Liberato, Shea Whigham, Jordana Spiro, Adelaide Clemens, Lucas Jade Zumann, Malin Åkerman, Tony Hale

Director: Martha Stephens

Rated: NR

Running Length: 109 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  I open my review of the new coming-of-age drama with a familiar slap on the wrist to myself.  Yes, once again I did the film I was about to see a disservice by reading the little blurb about it first and getting to the “coming-of-age” part and doing one of those exasperated “Blerghs”.  Like a badly drawn character from the Sunday comics, my next thought bubble was, “now you’ll tell me that it’s set in the South in the 1960s”.  Sure enough….a small Oklahoma town in the 1960s is where the action of To the Stars takes place.  The one thing that intrugied me, though, is when I read the movie was shot in black and white…which I found interesting because so few movies go that route.  So let me say I was a little fraught when I started the movie and it was in full dust bowl color…a pause and a scan of the internet told me that while the movie was shot in B&W and premiered at festivals in that format, the wider release would be in color.  Huh. Ok.

All this to say that for whatever reason I came to this indie film in, how should I say it?, not the best spirit.  I recognized that, though, and promised myself to work hard at letting all that go because the movie deserved my honest feedback.  Turns out, I didn’t have to work hard at all because this is one fine film, a surprisingly moving bit of entertainment boasting genuine heartfelt performances.  Well-paced and taking the kind of turns I wasn’t expecting at the beginning, it may follow some familiar rough roads but it’s when it veers off in its own path that it really soars.

When mousy Iris Deerborne (Kara Hayward, Moonrise Kingdom) first meets fireball Maggie Richmond (Liana Liberato, Banana Split), she doesn’t know quite what to make of the new girl in town.  A gang of bullies that have found a reliable target has just stopped Iris on her way to school and Maggie isn’t aware that Iris rarely puts up a fight.  Though Maggie tries to fit in by standing out in their small town school crowd, she only connects with Iris when the two share of moment of vulnerability late at night at a pond between their houses.  A friendship blossoms where Maggie encourages Iris to come out from the shadow of her well-intentioned but wrong-headed mother (Jordana Spiro) and Iris helps Maggie tear down some of the defensive walls she’s built up, eventually revealing why her family suddenly moved to their small town.

Shannon Bradley-Colleary’s script has a languid way of developing at first, slowly letting the friendship between the two girls come center stage.  The first half perhaps spends a tad too much time involved with school politics, namely the way Iris is shunned by the cool girls who are mean to Iris just…because. (It’s a big pain point of the script that none of the antagonists are ever given any background/reason to their actions.)  In a set-up that reminded me of Muriel’s Wedding, the cool girls glom on to the ‘prettier’ Maggie, who would rather spend her time with Iris who she senses (correctly) is far better for her than they are.  Scenes with Maggie and her parents (a staid Tony Hale, Toy Story 4, and Malin Åkerman, Rock of Ages) are fairly interesting because it’s clear something is going on in the family dynamic but just what that is only comes to light later on.

What the script does provide, even in small doses, are some excellent moments of authenticity not just for the two leading ladies who are both resolutely excellent throughout but for the supporting players.  From Shea Whigham (The Quarry) as Iris’s soft-spoken and supportive father to Spiro as her boozy mother that flirts with anything that moves.  I was also quite taken with Adelaide Clemens (The Great Gatsby) as Hazel, the town hairdresser who plays a special role of comfort as the film continues.  To say more about how all of these complex characters factor into the surprising turn of events would rob the movie of some of its emotional kick but director Martha Stephens guides it all with a delicate touch.

Watching the movie, the whole black and white business was always on the forefront of my mind.  At first, the wide shots of the open Oklahoma prairie land seemed like the perfect way to utilize the film stock drained of color but quite a lot of the movie is set at night.  I actually think the decision to flip to color was the right one because seeing that a few major events happen in the darkness, it especially helps as the film moves toward its bittersweet conclusion.  A wise choice for a wise movie.  Don’t miss this one – it’s one of those I think you could easily recommend to others.