“How well do you remember the original?” says the narrator in the fifth Scream movie’s traditional opening phone-call murder game, the new Ghostface murderer (or is it “killers”) poses that issue, and it’s also the film’s core obsession. The most meta of movie franchises has returned to take a jab at Hollywood’s current trend: legacy sequels, if the perplexing title (‘Scream’ was right there — the type of number title wordplay the picture itself pokes fun at) hadn’t already given you away. Or, as the film calls them, ‘re-quels’ — a sequel-reboot hybrid centered mostly on fresh characters, but set in the chronology of the original film to bring back the beloved old characters.
In some respects, the underappreciated Scream 4 already achieved this – appropriately, for a brand and filmmaker who has always been ahead of the curve, Wes Craven wrote a legacy sequel in 2011 before they ever existed. So, kudos to incoming filmmakers Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (formerly of the riotously delightful Ready Or Not) for not only providing a film deserving of the late horror legend but also for making their Scream more than a renovation of a sequel of a series of self-referential thrillers.
As is customary in prequels, a new protagonist is introduced: Sam Carpenter (that surname is no coincidence), portrayed by Melissa Barrera of In The Heights, who demonstrates that she can scream as well as sing. Sam gets quite a lot of the screen time, as well as her helpful partner Richie (The Boys’ Jack Quaid, a comedic standout), and Tara’s pals (a Gen-Z group reared on so-called “elevated horrors” films like The Babadook and Hereditary), getting to know the newcomers before the legacy heroes arrive after Tara (Jenna Ortega), her estranged younger sister, is cut up by Ghostface in the opening reel – yet another tribute to the original’s Drew Barrymore sequence, but with the subtle humor, light language, and stunning savagery necessary to pull it off.
“Crucially, after the passing of Wes Craven, the spirit of Scream remains alive.“
Although Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courteney Cox have been in every Scream film, it’s still exciting to see them back in action 10 years later – and, in typical requel fashion, their reappearance comes with added emotional baggage.
The classic connection between Arquette’s officer Dewey (the MVP of the oldies here) and Cox’s ambitious TV anchor Gale still exists, although with a gloomy undertone.
While that depth is good, it comes at the sacrifice of the knockabout fun the two used to provide back in the day — and the picture lingers a bit too long on the serious material in its middle act before ramping up for its horrific conclusion.
Importantly, even after Wes Craven’s death, the soul of Scream lives on. Even though the series has been reflecting and recreating itself for 25 years, it still has some fresh new twists — even though certain clichés – to keep things moving. The Ghostface kills are still razor-sharp (a slow-mo neck-knifing is particularly brutal), Nick Cave‘s ‘Red Right Hand’ graces the soundtrack once more, and familiar characters and settings add a nice frisson to the proceedings. Much of Scream takes place at a party held “for Wes” – an adolescent rave with plenty of prospective victims who’ll be perfect fodder for Ghostface’s knife. It’s exactly what he’d have wanted.