We see less often than we would like to tinker with the (virtually endless) possibilities of streaming and its formats. For some reason, heThe platforms are linked to traditional television, and they offer us series seasons of ten chapters of 50-60 minutes, or, if it is a sitcom, 20-30 minutes. That is, what were the traditional formats of the series when they were broadcast on linear television. But … why keep those durations in streaming, where you don’t have to wait around for the start and end times of the programs?
The only freedom that the platforms take in this sense is to slightly modify these time limits, and we can find series where the first or last chapter have an extra duration, or some that are noticeably shorter than usual (something also not new: the final pilots and season can traditionally be longer also on linear television). But aside from that, there is little room for experimentation with formats.
Netflix is the only one that has tried to change the habits of the viewer when broadcasting their productions and playing with the formats possibly because unlike, say, HBO, it is not due to television tradition. Netflix invented, let’s not forget, binge-watching or binge-watching, which has changed habits when it comes to consuming television to the point that there are many viewers who prefer to watch seasons in one go, and not week by week. On any platform.
But Netflix has toyed with formats in other ways as well. There are the special interactive episodes, especially the remembered ‘Bandersnatch’ from ‘Black Mirror’. Next year Netflix will experiment more openly with the world of video games, it remains to be seen in what way, but it seems more or less certain that it will be within the platform, not as a diversification of its business. Netflix is always willing to add to its possibilities playful options such as playing random content, and what is the algorithm but a form of conversation between viewer and platform.
‘The street of terror’, another interesting game with the formats
The latest proposal in this regard from Netflix is ‘La calle del terror’, a series of three feature films that, rare on the platform, have been released serially for three weeks. They are based on the second most famous franchise of youth horror literature by RL Stine after ‘Nightmares’, and they relate a terrifying plague of murders in a couple of North American towns that we will know in three eras: 1994, 1978 and 1666, each year in one of the movies.
The result, three youth horror films in their purest form, is very interesting. They have ups and downs and something more pure terror is missing, but the decision to honor in each of the films a code of horror cinema (the nineties a la ‘Scream’, the camp slashers with a masked killer type ‘Friday 13 ‘and more serious and historical horror movies like’ The Witch ‘) works. What’s more, they are genuinely youthful films, they speak in codes understood by the audience they are directed to (as the original novels did) without the usual condescending tone, but it is allowed to experiment with the clichés, perverting and reformulating them with sex and violence in bulk.
Much of that reformulation comes from the primarily female role, common in slashers, but here rethought and that gives rise to a few surprises. Very remarkable it is also the final section of the last film, where it is explained how it is possible that this delusional fauna of murderers exists in Shadyside in masked series, proposing a reflection on the nature of horror films and how viewers see it possible that ‘Friday the 13th’ has six, seven, eight and more parts. But above all, they are youth horror films with no pretensions other than to entertain and intelligently impact, and they do so thanks to their remarkable violence, their characters and their aesthetic work.
But it’s also interesting how Netflix has used the format to give movies meaning. Beyond being a kind of “three-episode long miniseries”, ‘Fear Street’ is planned more like three installments of a slasher or a horror saga to use, three installments that could not have been released in theaters as usual, one or two years apart, because they are too intertwined. What Netflix proposes is an ideal trilogy of horror films, in the sense that they share Leigh Janiak, director and co-writer (and therefore, they are united by a visual and narative discourse), and a continuity in the story.
The most interesting thing about ‘Fear Street’, then, is its nature of three feature films that they are not understood independently (strictly speaking, we would be talking about a single story of almost six hours), but where each one has its meaning and personality, arriving in the case of the central episode to completely change the protagonists. Beyond their values as horror movies (which they have), it is exhilarating that Netflix is experimenting with formats, and realizing that … three movies each with their plot, but that they make sense only if they are watched? together? Why not?
It is not known, at the moment, if there will be more deliveries of ‘Fear Street’, independent or in block, but Netflix should learn from what has been experienced here and not inherit the customs of traditional film or television, with films that only find continuity when they have been proven to be a success. There are other durations, other narratives, other forms of dialogue between pieces of the audiovisual puzzle that are worth exploring. And ‘Fear Street’ is a great step in just that direction.