Little over 25 years since the original Scream reinvigorated an entire sub-genre, Ghostface comes a-calling for a fifth time in a film that’s funny, bloody and oh so self-aware.
For a quarter of a century, the Scream franchise has cut deep into the meaty flesh of the horror genre and scraped the bone beneath. Its modus operandi of playfully poking fun at tired movie tropes while at the same time embracing them has wholeheartedly become a mainstay of the modern slasher—a myriad of meta mischief doused in a generous splattering of knowing irony and razor-sharp self-reference.
Across four films and three seasons of a spin-off TV show, Scream and its now-iconic masked villain have done the full tour. Cutting up cine-literate teenagers while spouting quippy, wink-nudge shtick everywhere from small town America, to college campuses, to Tinseltown, and back again. Rather fittingly then, a movie famous for its salient rule of never uttering the doomed phrase “I’ll be right back” has almost always found a way to return.
A decade on from Scream 4, and with the late horror maestro Wes Craven no longer at the helm, the question now is where does the series go from here? What’s left when the laws of slasher survival have been established and then re-established? When the conventions have been sliced, diced and sliced and diced all over again?
Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (the duo behind the gory, riotous Ready or Not) seek to provide answers, taking a stab at what has become Hollywood’s latest trend: the legacy sequel or, as the film dubs, the ‘requel’. Like other recent revivals—think Nia DaCosta’s Candyman and David Gordon Green’s retcon Halloween reboot—Scream (not Scream 5 or even 5cream—something that the film itself jabs at early on) looks to re-centre the narrative onto a fresh set of characters while still remaining faithful to the continuity of the original.
The result is an enjoyable blend of new and old, as franchise familiars Dewey Riley (David Arquette), Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and final girl Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) reunite alongside the latest generation of savvy Woodsboro teens during another spate of gruesome killings. Heading up the newbies is the suitably surnamed Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) who, with boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) in tow, returns home when her estranged sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) is viciously attacked by Ghostface in the opening reel.
It makes for something that is at once shrewd and derivative; a movie more fun than it is frightening. For all its trademark intertextuality, channelled through its latest cohort of victims (or are they suspects?), Scream remains a sharply contemporary beast. The staple nods to Halloween and A Nightmare On Elm Street are here given the Gen-Z treatment, replaced by references to the likes of Jordan Peele, Rian Johnson and the so-called ‘elevated horror’ of The Babadook and It Follows. The script retains much of the revered self-reflexivity and astute awareness, while the call backs to Craven’s original—from faces to places to the ominous twangs of Nick Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand’—are plentiful.
But crucially, as much it looks back, Scream valiantly gazes forward. As much as affection for the original bleeds through unreservedly, to discard the film to the shameless fan service pile populated the likes of Ghostbusters: Afterlife and The Rise of Skywalker is to miss the point entirely. Instead, Scream aims to carve out a corn-syrup-strewn path of its own, offering some intriguing, if potentially divisive revelations by way of raised emotional stakes and ambitious character arcs.
Ultimately, Scream’s satirical blade firmly embeds itself in the very toxic fandom that has blotted those aforementioned franchises and that its own narrative choices could very well evoke. Then again, that might be entirely by design; amid all the slashing and severing, the referencing and remixing, Scream flips a big, bloody finger the way of those choleric, self-elected gatekeepers. And for that, Wes would be proud.
A gory, gratifying romp with surprising depth, the fifth instalment brings the franchise back to the slasher standards set by the first two films. In Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin, the meta mantle has been passed into safe, assured hands. It’s a scream, baby.
Words by George Nash
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