When it debuted in 1996, Wes Craven’s Scream, written by Kevin Williamson (who also wrote I Know What You Did Last Summer and would go on to create Dawson’s Creek), made a splash in the horror genre. It was a fresh new concept in the space, a film that leaned into its own tropes and stereotypes, in on its own jokes about the predictable nature of slasher flicks, all jump scares and twist endings. The film is so meta there’s even a character who explains to his friends (and, of course, us) the “rules” of the plot and how, once a masked murderer is terrorizing the town, to stay alive. To date, the film has grossed over $173 million at the box office, spawned a self-aware genre behind it and originated a franchise that, this week, marks its fifth installment with…a movie called Scream. In between, Scream 2 (1997), Scream 3 (2000) and Scre4m (2011) kept the story fresh, sequels that saw the main characters (or at least, the ones who survived) go from high schoolers to adults, from naive victims to well-worn crime solvers determined to end the reign of the killer known as Ghostface once and for all.
Twenty-five years after the original, this latest version is just as self-aware as ever, even as it embraces the trends and technology of a whole new generation. The film’s new creative team, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (co-directors of ready or Not) and writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busik, pay worthy homage to Craven’s legacy (the horror film giant passed away in 2015) as they bring back Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) for another round of battle with a serial killer wreaking havoc in Woodsboro. Now solidly in their mid-40s and beyond, these three mainstays are more supporting characters in their own franchise as the film shifts focus to a new batch of high schoolers. Several members of this new gang have ties to the original cast of characters, a sweet nod to the franchise’s roots, namely Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding), who are niece and nephew to Jamie Kennedy’s Randy, the movie buff in the originals who always explain the rules.
One such rule is the way every Scream film starts: a brutal kill scene, the first movie famously featuring Drew Barrymore with a blonde bob, home alone and terrorized by an unknown caller who wants to play a (murderous) game. This Scream starts the same way, introducing Tara (Jenna Ortega), also home alone and also answering a call from an unknown number; since it’s 2022, Tara is texting with her friend Amber (Mikey Madison) while she’s on the phone, and there’s a home security system she manages from an app on her phone while the killer bangs on the door to get in. Unlike the fates of those in the opening scenes of previous films, Tara miraculously survives her attack, an incident that draws her estranged sister, Sam (Melissa Barrera, In The Heights) back to Woodsboro with her boyfriend, Richie (Jack Quaid), in tow. She’s summoned by Wes Hicks (Dylan Minnette), son of Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton), Dewey’s doe-eyed deputy who first appeared in the fourth film. Sam has her own ties to the first generation of Scream teens, but that gets into spoiler territory.
At one point in the film, with a killer on the loose and the gang trying to figure out how to get one step ahead of him, Mindy takes on the role of explainer (maybe it’s in her blood) and posits that what they’re living through is something called a “requel,” not quite a reboot, but something more than a sequel. There are ties to the original IP, but it’s also fresh enough to start a whole new narrative (or, you know, have the same title). If that’s what this Scream is going for, it mostly succeeds. It’s hugely satisfying to see Campbell, Cox and Arquette back on screen in these familiar roles, and the film doesn’t try to pretend that their lives have been consumed by Ghostface and their many encounters with his different iterations. They have histories, their lives have diverged in understandable ways, and they’ve put a distance between themselves and Woodsboro’s wrought history. Perhaps it’s inevitable with a revolving door of new castmates in a franchise this large, but its the youngsters in this go-round who feel like the weakest links, not a recognizable face among them. Half the fun of the earlier Scream films is that they managed to feature a who’s who of popular young celebs of the moment, and it feels like a missed opportunity here to add some weight to the proceedings.
But the film itself capably navigates a not-too-predictable storyline that sees Ghostface come for more than one of this core crew, all while Sam comes to terms with her own origin story and her role in the killer’s resurfacing. Along the way, there are more easter eggs than any bunny would know what to do with and as much self-aware humor as the writers could cram in. Most of it is charming and entertaining, and what isn’t is already forgotten by the time the next one-liner comes around. Most importantly, Scream doesn’t skimp on the scares or gore. Maybe it’s the hi-def digital footage and Dolby surround sound, but this latest installation feels more visceral and gruesome than any of its predecessors, more willing to show us the brutal attacks and the gore that results from stab after stab (after stab after stab). And that’s really what keeps us coming back nearly thirty years later, after all. Like Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kreuger before him, Ghostface (and those who’ve been fighting him for decades) is a horror genre staple worth revisiting in any sequel, reboot or requel…whatever that is.
Scream is now playing in theaters.
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