When the original Scream came out in 1996, it was a blast of fresh air in the horror genre with its self-referential style that still managed to contain some genuine thrills. Its subsequent sequels were met with less enthusiasm, as the franchise seemed content to just rehash the things that made the first film so successful.
Twenty-five years later, we have arrived at the fifth installment, cheekily — or lazily, depending on your perspective — titled just Scream again in a commentary on the ongoing reboot phase in Hollywood. That knowing reference continues in the dialogue, with a character opining about the lack of imagination in the film industry when talking about Stab, the film-within-the-film that has now reached its eighth movie.
Per the rules of the reboot – or, as that character calls it, the re-quel – this film introduces a whole bunch of new characters while still honoring the legacy of the original stars. Thus, the lead is Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), whose estranged sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) is attacked in the film’s opening scene. Sam, along with her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) and Tara’s friends Wes (Dylan Minnette), Mindy (Jasmin Savoy-Brown), Amber (Mikey Madison), and Chad (Mason Gooding), attempts to figure out who the new Ghostface might be – and everyone’s a suspect.
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, and written by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, the film, much like the previous three films, plays the hits. At this point in the series, even though the behind-the-scenes faces have changed (this is the first film not to directly involve either director Wes Craven or writer Kevin Williamson), there doesn’t seem to be much interest in changing the formula. Undoubtedly, many will have an issue with that, but it appears to be the point of the series that no matter how many things change, the story will remain the same.
So you get the scene where someone explains the rules of being in a horror movie (this time done by the returning David Arquette), along with scenes referencing recent developments in the genre, including “elevated” options like The Babadook and It Follows. And once again Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and Gale Weathers/Riley (Courtney Cox) get drawn back into the fray, although the reasoning for them doing so this time is so thin that it almost doesn’t exist.
If you’re judging the film on its own, it’s only so-so. The story is lacking much wow factor, and the only element that makes it stand out is a slight increase in graphic violence, with a few close-ups that would make anyone cringe. But every Scream movie is designed to be in concert with the others, and so it works exactly as they intended. Not much of it makes logical sense, but that’s all part of the fun.
The film is full of young actors on the rise, from Barrera (In the Heights) to Minnette (13 Reasons Why) to Madison (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), itself a long Scream tradition. Everyone acquits themselves well, although a few of them dial up the intensity just a bit too much. Arquette, Cox, and Campbell are the old reliables, with their knowing reactions more than enough to sell the believability of their scenes.
If you’re going to watch a Scream film in this day and age, you have to know you’ll be served pretty much the same meal as you’ve gotten four times before. You’re either okay with that or you’re not; for my money, it’s as entertaining as the other films in the franchise, making it worth seeing in spite of its faults.
Scream opens in theaters on January 14.