Despite the inferior display of genre, however, the film’s weakest aspect is not the horror at all, but its desire to interject the plot with modern-day soap opera fodder. Terrified that the audience won’t be emotionally invested in its characters, the writers riddle the action with several moments of elongated, verbose relationship melodrama—even during the most intense scenes. Any true horror fan will likely scoff at the contrived development randomly scattered throughout a film that longs to be part of a genre that’s typically known for picking its spots to insert depth, letting the rest of it flow out naturally.
Never for a second do we believe that any of these kids are actually from 1994, and it’s hard to pinpoint the era in which it’s set, outside of the opening sequence and the soundtrack choices. It’s also hard to find many likable characters outside of Josh and, occasionally, Simon and Kate. Josh is our real surrogate for the events in the film, and the one character who we don’t want to see die. Flores Jr. also gives one of the more grounded performances of the bunch.
The movie has a great comedic sense in places, but Janiak doesn’t know how to use that tool consistently enough. Hechinger is the obvious comedic relief, and he does a great job as another standout in the cast. Unfortunately, Deena, our protagonist, manages to be both flawed AND unlikable, as she almost always operates under selfish desire rather than logic, and her vices are so empowered that the audience can’t possibly sympathize with her either. For as much as this movie wants the audience to feel some sort of emotional attachment, it never establishes a moral code for any of its characters—with the exception of maybe Kate, the unassumingly hedonistic drug dealer.
There’s a reason why horror movies typically can’t be action-packed and develop characters at the same time. Ultimately, Fear Street Part One: 1994 could be a lot leaner (and shorter), but when it counts, the movie nails the effed-up schlock it’s going for while also setting up enough lore that makes us want to watch parts Two and Three.