It’s hard for a horror film to surprise audiences anymore. During the rise of the slasher films in the ‘80s, the identity of the killer was always the last real shock in the movie. Over time, filmmakers spent most of their effort on these twists until the tired formula was overdone. 1996’s Scream broke new ground by simultaneously poking fun at the genre, showing reverence for the genre and managing to surprise audiences with a twist that nobody could see coming. The three sequels did their best to duplicate the success and freshness of the original, but with diminishing returns. 25 years later, it’s time to take one last(?) step back into the slasher series where the “rules” of the genre either guide the story or completely upend it. Scream entertains by not straying too far from the same old formula, but this retread didn’t wow or surprise me in the least.
Just like most of the cast, the filmmakers are new to the series. Codirectors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett previously directed the awful Devil’s Due, which at least gave us one of the best viral video pranks that you must watch, and the much better Ready or Not. Cowriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick (a cowriter of Ready or Not) probably jumped at the chance to write this screenplay because of the multiple movie references usually found in the dialogue. The filmmakers introduce a new generation of teens and twentysomethings in Woodsboro, the fictional town and setting for most of the series. Opening with the iconic Ghostface killer (always voiced menacingly by Roger L. Jackson) taunting Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega), the killer first questions her by phone and then attacks her in person, putting her in the hospital. Tara’s estranged sister Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) returns home from California with boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) in tow when she learns of Tara’s condition. When the sisters’ friends learn of the attack, they suspect that Ghostface has returned. They quickly enlist the help of retired sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette), who loops in his ex-wife Gale Weathers (real-life ex Courteney Cox) and original “final girl” Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) for further assistance.
If you expect a lot of screen time from Arquette, Cox and Campbell, you’ll be greatly disappointed. Although they have the largest images on the poster, this Scream relies on the new faces; the veterans don’t show up for a half-hour and then sparingly afterwards. Ortega and Barrera carry the film, and one of them appears in almost every scene. The series doesn’t offer much room for heavy acting scenes. Still, these two actresses embody their characters’ family drama between all of the chaos. A heartbreaking, emotional scene in which Dewey and Gale talk about their breakup must have been terrible for Arquette and Cox to film and probably didn’t require too much acting. Quaid fits well into the annoying boyfriend mold and spouts his love for the Stab flicks, the series within the series that chronicles the Woodsboro murders. The remaining teens match slasher flick stereotypes, and Jasmin Savoy Brown stands out as Mindy, the nerdy know-it-all who schools the rest of her friends about the rules for such movies. Mindy also explains why this very movie should be called a “requel” instead of a sequel. Fans of Marley Shelton will enjoy her return as Judy Hicks. Jackson’s voice defines the series as much as John Carpenter’s theme music instantly connects you to Halloween, and Jackson perhaps speaks more here than in any of the previous films.
What I love about the Scream series the most is that you’re in on the joke… until the filmmakers decide to pull the rug out from under you. The meta aspects of the characters being aware of other horror titles and genres brings laughs along with the scares. Where else will you hear a character mention The Babadook?! Just like this movie should really be called Scream 5 instead of merely Scream, Richie argues that the latest Stab movie should be titled Stab 8 instead of Stab. Despite the rules being made clear multiple times by multiple characters, I was disappointed that the writers violated these rules and orchestrated quite stupid scenarios. Scream earns its R rating with lots of blood and some quite animated stabbings. Although there’s gore, you can only expect some brutal attacks instead of creative killings like you might find in the Friday the 13th series. However, the special effects for one neck slicing impressed me with the way that the knife slid in and out of the wound.
I don’t have too many complaints about the quality of the film as opposed to the lack of originality in both the plot and the whodunit aspect of the mystery. I despise when characters open a door of some sort (particularly of a refrigerator) to block the camera’s view and then close it to reveal something or someone. The directors play with this tired trope a few times. Strike one. I’m OK with possible red herrings like one character’s bruises that might or might not indicate a heated fight as Ghostface. The story introduces a lot of information and leaves open questions that ultimately have nothing to do with the eventual revelation. Don’t burden the audience with too much knowledge. Strike two. Immediately after watching Scream, I realized that the complicated opening scene with lots of phone calls, texts, video and remote door locks didn’t make a lot of sense after knowing the identity of the killer. Strike three. I love being fooled, but if you don’t try very hard, I have to push back. Not every movie can be Saw, Get Out or the original Scream, but at least make the effort.
Is Scream the end of the series? Probably not. With the characters and relationships revealed, a sequel wouldn’t be as difficult to concoct as its title. Would it be a worthy sequel, though? Also, probably not. I’m on the side of just putting the series out of its misery and leaving it alone unless the franchise owners wait another 10+ years and pull off some kind of twist that goes beyond anything before. The filmmakers both dedicated the film to director Wes Craven and named a character after him. That kind of legacy deserves a better movie than more of the same. Scream at best adds one to the playlist for a movie marathon and further cements its series in the annals of horror fandom.