by Justin Nordell
The sheer joy of a Scream film has often come from the many twists, turns, surprises, and unmaskings to come, so forgive me for being vague in this review, but it is next to impossible to go into even the most basic of plot points without teeing you off as to the excitement of what’s to come. I solemnly swear to keep this review as spoiler-free as humanly possible to allow you the same exhilaration as I had the whole way through.
“Don’t F*#% with the original!” Scream protagonist/final girl extraordinaire Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell, Wild Things) cried out over a decade ago when Scream 4 was released in theaters. The film’s very existence seemed like a minor miracle to fans, itself coming out over a decade after the third entry in the once thought dead beloved scary movie franchise. While that line solicited cheers from my audience back in 2011, many felt as if the film should’ve listened to its own advice. Scream 4 was, at the time, a commercial and critical flop despite a return to the franchise for screenwriter Kevin Williamson (I Know What You Did Last Summer) and horror savant director Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street). Even though time has been kind to Scream 4 (it fully predicted everything from live-streaming content to our cultural obsession with fame and gaining fans/followers… and literally just went fresh on Rotten Tomatoes in the last month), upon Craven’s death shortly after its failed release, all Scream fans knew that the franchise had received two proverbial bullets to the head – the only way to ensure something stays dead.
Now, over yet another decade later… another minor miracle has occurred and we are receiving a new Scream film in theaters! But with new talent behind and in front of the camera and over 25 years passing since the original Scream seemingly came out of nowhere in 1996 to not only reinvigorate the flailing horror genre, but to subvert everything that had come before in smart, winking, and bloody ways… does the world really need this new Scream? It is my great pleasure to share that the answer is a resounding: yes!
While Scream films always like to discuss the ‘rules’ of horror movies, the one hard rule of the franchise is that they all have to open with a bang: a minutes long set piece in which the latest iteration of the killer (consistently voiced by the menacing Roger Jackson, Titan A.E.) phones an unsuspecting victim. Casual conversation quickly turns menacing, often with with the series’ signature “What’s your favorite scary movie,” before someone in a black flowing grim reaper costume with a creepy, elongated white plastic ghostface mask obscuring their identity appears with a hunting knife. Scream (yes, it is Scream 5 but producers have chosen to jump on the ‘just call the new film by the original’s name’ à la Halloween 2018 bandwagon – go with it) not only follows in its predecessors’ footsteps with a wicked opening, it goes out of its way to set a tone that is wittier, meaner, and has more to say than any entry since the first. Opening the new film with the second best inciting incident in the Scream series sets the bar really high off the bat and begins to prepare the viewer for what’s to come.
New characters abound creating an array of potential victims and suspects (Agatha Christie eat your heart out). Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera, In the Heights) returns to Woodsboro with her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid, giving all the adorkable charm he displayed in the delightful Plus One streaming on Hulu) in tow after years away from home at the film’s start. Sam’s little sister Tara (Jenna Ortega, the incredible The Fallout coming January 27th to HBO Max – add it to your queue) her best friend Amber (Mikey Madison, FX’s “Better Things”), twin Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown, your new obsession “Yellowjackets” on Showtime), her brother Chad (Mason Gooding, Booksmart), his girlfriend Liv (Sonia Ammar, Jappeloup), her ex Vince (West Chester’s own Kyle Gallner, American Sniper), and Sheriff Judy (Scream 4’s lemon square pusher Marley Shelton, Grindhouse)’s son Wes (Dylan Minette, Don’t Breathe) all find themselves at the center of the violence once again descending on Woodsboro, California.
Following subsequent attacks, our newbies seek out experts to help guide them as how to survive the omnipresent killer, seeking out retired sheriff Dewey (David Arquette, the criminally underseen 12 Hour Shift streaming on Hulu). Reluctant to assist these kids in peril, understandable after being stabbed a cumulative nine times in the first four films, Dewey’s good nature gets the better of him but not before he warns perennial victim Sidney and his ex wife, reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox, “Friends”) to stay away from Woodsboro… obviously they don’t listen.
Gathering the remaining cast together, Dewey walks them through the previous incidents and ‘rules’ from lessons learned, while (destined to be new fan-favorite character) Mindy takes everyone (and the audience) through the film-within-a-film Stab series (apparently an eighth film came out recently that fans hated) based on the in-film killings of Scream 1-3 before spiraling into made up territory. It’s here that Mindy posits that they’re living through a ‘REQUEL,’ neither a ‘remake’ or a ‘sequel,’ but rather a combination therein where incidents of the past echo into their present. Solving these connections may be what saves them all.
More self-aware than ever before, this latest Scream is the first without Wes Craven at the helm and filmmakers Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (the delightful Ready or Not) display that they’re not only fans of the franchise, but disciples of Craven himself, nailing the series’ tonal tightrope time and time again. Acknowledging the twenty five years that have passed since the original, this Scream is simply meaner and nastier not just to its characters but us as an audience, holding up a mirror and forcing us all to look in it as it acknowledges our expectations and chooses before our eyes to subvert them or not. It’s not without its share of issues, there are some script problems including clunky dialogue for teens, especially those of color, and a need to project its punches and overexplain in ways the series never felt the need to before (we get that it’s a psycho reference… you don’t need to tell us). The new characters don’t all get the development they deserve (a lesson I wish they’d learned from Scream 4) and some of the legacy characters feel a little more dropped in than others, but yet it’s hard to complain when multiple characters get the opportunity to deliver series best performances.
All in all Scream is the most entertaining entry in the franchise since 1997. I have seen over a thousand horror films in my lifetime and this Scream is the first ever to give me goosebumps while making me openly cry. Accessible to new viewers while giving plenty to fans who never thought this film would be made, if you’ve seen the first four films, do yourself a favor and enjoy the minor miracle that is Scream.
In theaters January 14