James Jay Edwards

Scream Follows Its Bloody Formula Perfectly

(Scream, courtesy Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media)

James Jay Edwards reviews Scream, a new slasher film directed by Matt Bettenelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, and the fifth installment in the Scream film series. (Paramount Pictures)

 

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It’s powerful enough to bring back horror movies from years—and sometimes decades—past for sequels. Lately, we’ve seen it with Halloween and Candyman. Now, it’s Scream’s turn. And like Halloween and Candyman, the new movie shares a title with the original.

 

(Scream, theatrical release poster, courtesy Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media)

Scream is, of course, set in the town of Woodsboro that was rocked by a murder spree in the mid-nineties. Every ten years or so, a copycat killer emerges wearing the same Ghostface mask and wreaks havoc. And it’s happening again, with a psycho hunting down and killing teenagers who all seem to have a connection to the original crime in some way, and all centering around a girl named Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega from The Babysitter: Killer Queen).

It’s enough to get Tara’s estranged sister, Sam (Melissa Barrera from In the Heights) to come home and try to help. It’s also enough to get Sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette once again reprising his role from Scream), retired but still in Woodsboro, to place calls to his friend Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell also from Scream) and ex-wife Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox, again from the original), pleading with them to stay away. But newswoman Gale senses a story, and Sid wants to end the curse of Woodsboro once and for all. So, they both return to battle Ghostface, too.

 

(Scream, courtesy Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media)

The Scream franchise was the brainchild of the late director Wes Craven (his second genre-changing franchise following A Nightmare on Elm Street) and writer Kevin Williamson (who had his finger on the pulse of the American teen in the nineties, having created Dawson’s Creek but also writing fright flicks like I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Faculty, and Teaching Mrs. Tingle). This Scream sequel was written by James Vanderbilt (The Amazing Spider-Man movies) and Guy Busick (Castle Rock) and directed by Matt Bettenelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (two-thirds of Radio Silence, the collective behind some of the better V/H/S movie segments). So, the creative cast has changed, but the spirit of Scream remains.

All four of the previous Scream movies are immensely watchable, the kind of fare that one might stumble across on cable television and continue watching until the end without even realizing it until the closing credits are rolling. And this Scream is just as engaging, if a little uneven. True to form, it’s essentially a whodunnit, with the characters trying to figure out who amongst them might be the killer. But there’s also a bunch of familial drama—overly sentimental stuff between the sisters or between Dewey and Gale—that bogs down the pace in a few places in the early running, removing focus from the killer at large. And much of that drama is retconned plotting and manufactured backstory to make the plot of this new chapter make more sense. But by the time things come to a boil in the third act, as in every Scream movie, all bets are off.

And that’s all you get … no spoilers!

 

(Scream, courtesy Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media)

And also, just like the other Scream movies, this one is extremely self-referential and meta. It’s almost too meta. Again, the “rules” of the movie are spelled out meticulously, this time the emphasis being on how things go in these modern “requels.” And, of course, the potential teen victims are all huge horror movie fans (and love to show off their knowledge), which allows for some fun discourse, including a section of great (albeit a bit obvious) thoughts on “elevated horror.” Scream borrows liberally from both itself and the previous films in the series, to the point where the movie is purposely ridiculing itself. For such a deadly serious movie, it’s got quite a sense of humor.

Scream is also extremely violent. While Ghostface has always been a ruthless villain, they seem to be getting angrier with each movie. Scream 4 saw the killer at their most brutal, and this Scream continues to raise the level of bloodshed. The vitriol is terrifying, and the rage with which the murderer attacks their victims is deliberately uncomfortable. It’s disturbing how full of fury and wrath the killings are. Slasher movie fans will not be disappointed with that aspect of Scream.

 


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Basically, Scream is exactly what you’d expect it to be. Meta humor from toxic, know-it-all horror fans who inevitably get slaughtered one-by-one in savage ways. The Scream franchise is a formula, and it’s a solid one. Even though it follows the formula precisely, this new Scream is a middling film in the series. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, it’s just that, between the lulls in action and the eye-rolling plot conveniences, it doesn’t quite live up to the high bar that was set by the first couple of films. Still, an average Scream movie is better than most modern horror films. So, there’s that.

Scream is now playing in theaters.

 

 

Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.

 

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