The fifth Scream movie demonstrates that there’s a lot of life in the franchise yet: here’s our review of the movie.
You know the drill by now. A movie-savvy young woman is alone in her house when the phone rings. On the other end, we soon learn, is a gruff-voiced psychopath with a penchant for horror film trivia. If there’s a gap in the victim’s genre knowledge – or the villain is unhappy with something they say – they burst from a side door wearing a black cloak and a ghostly mask before stabbing the unfortunate woman to death. Such is the formula of a Scream film.
But if there’s one thing we know about Scream movies, it’s that formula is only ever a starting point and rules are very much there to be broken.
This latest instalment – confusingly and not entirely necessarily titled simply Scream – arrives more than a decade after Scream 4 brought yet another killer to the not-very-sleepy streets of Woodsboro. The reason for the delay is largely the passing of Wes Craven – horror maestro and director of all four previous films – in 2015. Now, though, the filmmaking collective Radio Silence – represented by co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett – are stepping into the prestigious, blood-drenched shoes of Craven, having wowed genre fans with the crowd-pleasing wedding night slasher Ready Or Not in 2019.
Their idea is a simple enough one, beginning with an attack on teenager Tara (Jenna Ortega). She prefers “elevated horror” to Ghostface’s beloved slashers and cites The Babadook as her favourite scary movie – “it’s an amazing meditation on motherhood and grief” – much to the killer’s fury. Tara’s fate encourages her estranged older sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) to return to Woodsboro from California with her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) in tow. She’s soon at the heart of a hack-and-slash spree seemingly fuelled, in the franchise’s typically postmodern fashion, by the increasingly trendy idea of the “requel” or “legacyquel”. Step forward Halloween 2018 and the upcoming Texas Chainsaw Massacre on Netflix.
In terms of postmodern wisecracks, the original Scream movies walked so that the 2022 film can run – and run at quite the rate of knots. The witty genre references and healthy sense of snark run through the movie just as much as the liberal lashings of gore, with the fast-talking movie buff Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) serving as this story’s take on Randy – cult hero of the first two films. She gets many of the best lines and delivers them with relish, particularly in a sharp-tongued showdown with fellow teen Amber (Mikey Madison) about the wisdom of going into a basement alone when there’s a serial killer targeting her group of friends.
Indeed, these teens are even more hip to the rules than those who have come before, reflecting a Gen Z culture which has grown up online amid all of the world’s information. This isn’t the 90s; you don’t need a friend like Randy to know that horror movie characters shouldn’t have casual sex or declare that they’ll “be right back” when they leave a room. One of the best running jokes is that the characters chide themselves whenever they make a mistake in accordance with horror rules, knowing that each false move could be the deadly misstep that consigns them to the lengthy list of corpses.
Of course, this being a legacy-quel (if that’s a word), the core trio of Scream characters are present and correct alongside the array of Gen Z potential victims and suspects. Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox are back as original final girl Sidney Prescott, loveable cop Dewey Riley and the unfortunately named reporter Gale Weathers. Their relationships and locations have shifted considerably in the decade since we last met them, but the script finds clever contrivances to bring them all back to Woodsboro in order to throw themselves into the thick of the action. Campbell, in particular, is still one of horror’s best and most compelling survivors.
And when the action comes, it’s great fun. Ghostface has always been a more fallible big screen boogeyman than the likes of Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers and there’s an enjoyably slapstick edge to the way he blunders and scuffles on the way to his murderous goal. Extravagant, lurid gore is very much back in fashion among today’s horror fanatics, which is something Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett embrace with a string of delightfully grotesque death sequences. There’s probably more blood shed in one particular kill here than in the rest of the franchise combined.
But Scream has never been just about gore. That’s for the other slashers. Indeed, the film’s boldest swing this time around is not its violence, but the way it turns its crosshairs squarely and directly at the entitled, toxic fan culture which has spread like a contagion in the era of internet movie discussion. Fan reaction to Stab 8 – the latest entry in the series’ self-referential franchise-within-a-franchise – has been poisonous and there are a number of scenes which self-consciously play with the idea that fans today can often feel they alone know the best possible direction for a franchise. Given the recent furore around the Ghostbusters film, it’s an interesting and very timely topic to take on, and one which Scream attacks with exactly the level of devilish brio you’d expect. It will be fascinating to see how certain fan communities react to being so obviously the butt of the joke.
Anybody hoping for a truly definitive end to the franchise will likely be disappointed, as Scream very much holds the door open for yet another return to Woodsboro. “After tonight,” declares Sidney as she prepares for the final showdown, “no more books, no more movies and no more fucking Ghostface”. But if we’ve learned anything about the horror genre over the last three decades, it’s that you can never bet on that. As Matthew Lillard’s unhinged murderer emphatically and correctly stated way back in 1996, “let’s face it baby, these days, you gotta have a sequel”.
Scream is a joyous and triumphant return for one of the most inventive franchises in horror history, arriving at a time when traditional slashers like Halloween Kills are comfortably co-existing with genre mash-ups like the terrific Freaky and Happy Death Day. The series’ forensic eye for criticising the genre while revelling in its tropes is present and correct – it might even go to the point of being a little formulaic at times – but there’s definitely a modern twist here and an acknowledgement that we’re a long way from the Gen X, slacker heyday of the 90s.
Every new generation gets its take on Scream, with the changing occupants of the Ghostface suit allowing the franchise to metamorphose into something different and surprising every few years. That’s the way Wes Craven liked it and, based on this new entry, it’s clear Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett have enough respect and intelligence to walk in his footsteps while also rearranging the face of evil into their own twisted vision.
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