Wes Craven was a horror institution. The writer and director is responsible for some of the best known films within horror, and is one who happily traversed a range of sub-genres to repeatedly create movies that captured audience attention. Craven created the horror legend Freddy Kreuger in his A Nightmare on Elm Street series. Not content with birthing the one franchise, Craven reinvented the horror genre in 1996 with Scream. The first film spawned a trilogy, and an eventual fourth instalment, all of which had Craven at the helm. Then in 2015 Wes Craven sadly passed away. With his passing many thought that was it for the Scream franchise, but Paramount had different ideas…
A fifth film, simply called Scream, has been co-directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, the team behind Ready or Not. Released in 2019, Ready or Not was a fantastically fun film and seems to align itself perfectly with the tone of the Scream movies, so when they were announced as directors Scream, fans were pleased. But have the duo made good on these hopes?
Two words pop up before the end credits of Scream, “For Wes”, those two words weighed down with plenty of sentiment as Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett pay a wonderful homage to Craven’s creation without getting too sycophantic. The pair build upon the meta murder mystery horror that made the original a classic, but as times have changed, they approach from new angles. Back in 1996, the slasher film, and horror in general, had become a bit of a joke. These feelings were perfectly skewered in Craven’s work as Sidney and co discussed the parallels between their own situation and a cheesy horror movie, whilst simultaneously recalibrating an entire genre with its own self-awareness. This new Scream can’t quite manage the same, although it does move the narrative on from discussing tired old tropes.
This time around, rather than analyse the slashers of the seventies and eighties, light is cast on the stagnation of sequels, reboots, and the newly created ‘requel’ – into which Scream fits – whilst tackling the problem of fandoms. Fandom, toxic fandom in particular, is a big focus of the film; the fictitious film within the film – Stab 8 – has not been well received, and its blueprint is used to assess who the killer could be. Scream explores the nostalgia wave that has consumed cinemas in recent years and analyses just how dangerous it can be pandering to the expectations and desires of hardcore devotees, using the nasty nature of some Star Wars obsessives as a great example. Co-writer James Vanderbilt might be using the opportunity to get some of his own experiences off of his chest; he was one of several writers that worked on Independence Day: Resurgence. Further to fandom, the film presents plenty of conversation around the whole “elevated horror” debate, which horror fans will get a kick out of. It’s a strange symphony of both calling extreme fandoms out, at the same time as including elements to please them.
The biggest way in which fans are appeased is with the return of the franchise’s ‘legacy’ characters. As the trailers and marketing materials have already revealed, the original Woodsboro survivors, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Riley nee Weathers (Courtney Cox), and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) all reappear for the fifth outing. Scream 4’s Deputy Hicks (Marley Shelton) also makes a return, but the spotlight is on the core trio. The blending of these legacy characters with the newer batch doesn’t gel as well as hoped. Of the quartet, it’s only Arquette’s Dewey that gets the chance to truly immerse himself with the newer characters. Both Sidney and Gale assume a pseudo Jamie Lee Curtis in 2018’s Halloween bad-ass persona, and in doing so are kept at a distance from the newer crew. The duo veer dangerously close to a “Ghostface dies tonight” moment that may conjure some PTSD for those still recovering from Halloween Kills, but thankfully keep the wheels on. There isn’t the progression for these characters to which we’ve become accustomed, but their role here appears to simply be to open a dialogue between the new and old audience and hand the torch over.
The new cast are suitably fresh and exciting, the film a potential springboard for several of them to go on to bigger things. Melissa Barrera is great as Sidney 2.0 Sam. Her character is much more gutsy than the Sidney we first met back in 1996. Sam isn’t a victim and has a hard shell and resilience to her that makes her a more appealing final girl for modern audiences. Jenna Ortega, who plays Sam’s sister Tara is also excellent and this is yet another high in the actor’s flourishing career. Yellowjackets and Sound of Violence’s Jasmin Savoy Brown’s turn, as this film’s Jamie Kennedy, brings the comedy, and Jack Quaid’s Richie offers the viewer a conduit through which to speak. They are a strong group of characters, but they aren’t the only new cast members on the block.
In addition to these four, there are another further four members of the friendship group, and that is just too many. With so many new characters vying for screen time against the legacy players, many of them are under-developed. Slashers aren’t necessarily known for their complex and detailed range of victims, but the core group of the first Scream were all well featured. In this case, several of the group only pop up in a couple of scenes and there’s a feeling that some of them could easily have been cast aside without detracting too much from the story. The body count would be less, but when you think back to the original Scream, there were only three murders, plus the deaths of Stu and Billy, in the entire film. Sometimes less is more.
This being both a slasher and a Scream film, stalking, killing, movie trivia questions, and stabbings are the reason that most viewers venture out to watch it, and the death sequences are certainly interesting. The biggest change-up is that this time around the deaths are gorier; audiences are treated to much more maiming, violence, and gore than before. As with Craven’s original trilogy Scream holds an eighteen certificate in the UK, and yet it feels much bloodier than its originator. This is a perfect example of how lines around film classification and the tolerance levels of viewers have changed over the last twenty-five years. Craven’s film is almost tame by comparison to this. The gore however, does take away some of the components that made Craven’s film shine so. Drew Barrymore’s death at the beginning of the original is of course gory, but Craven skillfully moves the camera away at key moments, allowing the end reveal to hammer home what has been unseen. This was shocking and confronting, making for a far more cerebral scare than the popcorn bait instances displayed here. That’s not to say that they aren’t fun, they are, it’s just different to what fans of the franchise will be accustomed to.
A series that has lasted for twenty-five years and has thus far weathered five films and a television show, attention will quickly turn to the longevity of Ghostface and their prey. Were audiences to want it, there is enough meat left on the bones at the end of Scream to pave a through line for a continuation, though ending events here feels like the right thing to do. Spider-Man: No Way Home for horror fans, this iteration of Scream rewards loyal fans without alienating those new to the property. A worthy successor to Craven’s crown, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Scream asserts itself as both a respectful throwback and dynamic switchup, making it the perfect film to unite horror fans of all generations.
The first Scream film to be directed by someone other than Wes Craven, this version manages to show deep respect for the history whilst harnessing its own interesting opinions on modern horror cinema. Frightening fun and a ridiculously entertaining time, Scream proves that Ghostface is back and more devilish than before.
Scream is out to own on all formats now.
This review was first published on THN.