Fear Street Part Three: 1666 marks the conclusion of Leigh Janiak’s trilogy of horror pastiche films, which have been releasing weekly on Netflix. The trilogy’s release strategy has perhaps received as much attention as the films. Netflix adopts the weekly programming schedule that it actively helped to dissemble with its OTT service which gave rise to the binge-watching model. It’s not so much an innovation as a throwback, just like the movies themselves.
Part One: 1994 was a broad throwback to the slasher, specifically taking cards from the self-aware era popularized by Scream. Part Two: 1978 was a pure Friday the 13th clone, indulging in the more conventional trappings of the slasher. Part Three: 1666 is something completely different, a pastiche of the folk horror tradition which was en vogue for a moment in the 2010s. Unfortunately, The Witch this is not.
The trilogy remains ambitious, to which most reviews of the series have attested. But the severe change of setting does not do this concluding installment any favors. Bringing back much of the principal cast from the previous two films to play new characters, everyone puts on canned, nebulous accents. At their worst, they fluctuate wildly between Scottish and British, ultimately leading to a question of the casting choices.
It is a confounding idea. If all of the films featured the same actors portraying different characters each time, it might appear sensible. Instead, only this third film goes with that gimmick, apparently to give this completely new story some added stakes and a more direct connection to the larger narrative of the series.
This is explained narratively, vaguely, as the first film’s protagonist Deena (Kiana Madeira) touches an artifact of the series’ major supernatural force, Sarah Fier, spiriting her body into that of Fier and effectively flashing back to a 17th century witch hunt. If this is the explanation, though, it does not account for the presence of characters who resemble those from the second film, people Deena never met.
None of this matters too much, though, as this flashback is short-lived, presenting a sympathetic backstory for the series’ proposed villain using the cookie cutter elements of a colonial period piece. This just goes to show that the ambition of this trilogy’s scope is unwieldy. It is difficult for these films to balance the severe jumps in time. The second film’s 1970s segment feels too long for what it adds to the story. This third film’s 17th century segment feels too short for what is meant to be a dramatic conclusion which wraps up all loose ends.
The first film strikes the best balance by default, as all it needs to do is introduce the over-arching narrative with intriguing hints at a broader mythology for the town of Shadyside. The rest of the trilogy fails to live up to that intrigue, getting too lost in its genre experiment at the expense of a compelling through-line.
This conclusion is also thematically muddled, relying on the notion that one’s lineage determines their ultimate propensity towards good or evil. The explanation for this also leaves some humorous holes in terms of character motivation—not going to spoil anything here, but just think along the lines of if you could make a deal with the devil to get whatever you want, why would you choose that?
The second half of the film returns the action to the 1990s for a lengthy finale which doesn’t quite satisfactorily resolve the Shadyside mythology. It is a bloated climax (overextended due to one character’s illogical choice at a pivotal moment), whose emotional payoffs are short-lived and superficial. The underdog mentality which pervades the trilogy—the underprivileged Shadyside vs. the affluent Sunnyvale—does give the fight some cathartic potential.
But the whole escapade confirms the lumpiness of the overall narrative of these films. The diversions away from the first film’s characters in subsequent films leaves their fates in the conclusion less impactful. And given that the major antagonist in this climax is a character with minimal screentime throughout the trilogy (to speak of the character, not the actor), it all comes off rather uneventful. Unfortunately, this makes for a trilogy which trails off rather than escalates to a triumphant close.
Fear Street Part Three: 1666: C
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)