Wes Craven’s original masterpiece, Scream was a true turning point for the horror genre. As the genre saw the fall of the once-mighty slasher, writer Kevin Williamson flipped the genre upside down with his script known only as “Scary Movie”. Seeking the involvement of horror master Wes Craven who was also in dire need of a hit after the commercial failure of New Nightmare and the disaster that was Vampire in Brooklyn, the self-referential Scream took Hollywood and pop culture by storm. Although Craven sadly passed away in 2015, franchise reboots are all the talk of the town and another Scream film was inevitable. Thankfully, Paramount pictures sought new blood in Ready or Not filmmakers Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who go under the pseudonym Radio Silence. What results is a cleverly constructed homage to the work of Wes Craven that juggles it’s many ingredients with precise skill while delivering one this generation’s very best slashers.
It’s been 11 years since the last time someone has donned the infamous Ghostface costume and continued the legacy of murder that haunts Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Dewey Riley (David Arquette). The town of Woodsboro, and its citizens, have done their best to move on from the past, but when bodies begin to pile up at the hand of a new copycat dressed as Ghostface a new generation of teenagers are forced to seek help from the likes of Dewey, Gale and Sidney to help put an end to the string of murders for good.
Taking the current wave of legacyquels in the post-Force Awakens landscape to task, this new Scream keeps the meta edge this franchise has been known for. Not unlike recent meta blockbuster The Matrix Resurrections, Scream takes on its own legacy and the toxicity that comes with extreme fandom. The genre critiques, poking fun at the idea of “elevated horror” and the soullessness of reboots, are biting and fresh without coming across as smarmy or obvious. The screenplay, penned by James Vanderbilt (Zodiac) and Guy Busick (Ready or Not) nails its depiction of today’s younger generation without feeling out of touch or like older writers are trying to sound like young teenagers. Lines such as “I’m watching all the Stab movies on Netflix” come with a cheeky authenticity that many modern slashers fail to capture.
While not downright frightening, the Radio Silence duo craft a number of sequences that are masterclasses in tension. The opening sequence does a *ahem* killer job of establishing the groundwork for the franchise within the modern age, utilizing technological advancements wisely and using those many devices to create moments of edge-of-your-seat terror. The latest Scream is by far the grisliest of the franchise, with a particular viciousness in the carnage that will likely startle even seasoned genre vets. The highly engrossing whodunnit mystery, and the films overall template for that matter, is given a fresh update with more than enough new ideas of its own.
The genius of Wes Craven is impossible to replicate, but with writer Kevin Williamson returning as an Executive Producer and the Radio Silence duo clearly seeking to pay respects to the iconic filmmaker, Craven’s presence is felt all throughout this installment and its apparent great care was taken in preserving what makes this franchise special. By failing to simply retread what audiences know and expect, Scream continuously upends expectations and makes you think you know exactly where it’s heading, only to throw a curveball at you with sheer confidence. The legacy of the first Scream and its repercussions on its characters are explored quite thoroughly and with a grounded emotional center that gives real stakes to this fifth entry.
The filmmakers do an excellent job of balancing the narrative between the new cast of characters, led by strong work from Melissa Barrera (In The Heights) and Jenna Ortega (The Babysitter: Killer Queen), and the returning legacy characters. David Arquette gives what might be his most melancholic work to date as the now-grizzled Dewey. There’s a lingering sadness to where we find Dewey and although this review will steer clear of anything that could be misconstrued as spoilers, the actor is given a strong emotional undercurrent to the character that we haven’t seen before. Neve Campbell retains the fierce, but vulnerable edge to Sydney that makes her one of the horror genre’s great leading heroines. Courtney Cox has also been given a new arc for Gale that feels new and, thankfully, the filmmakers are more interested in furthering characters arcs rather than basking in cheap nostalgia at the sight of these three returning on-screen together again. Roger Jackson returns as the voice of Ghostface and gets new opportunities to play around with the limitations of what we’ve thought capable with the specific role.
The Radio Silence duo also make effective use of the lingering trauma that haunts its returning characters and the residents of Woodsboro. While new secrets are exposed and shocking revelations are brought to light, the film never forgets the burdening pain that carries throughout its ensemble. If other franchise reboots attempt to make mention of the impact past events have on its heroes, Scream takes the legacy of the original and vividly paints a picture of just how deep those wounds still affect everyone involved. The only true misstep Scream takes is in a number of attempts to bridge a literal path between this new film and Craven’s original. Some motivations require laps of logic and one particular reoccurring callback to the original crosses far into corny territory, but is thankfully used sparingly.
Scream is best film in the franchise since Wes Craven’s original. This is a funny, suspenseful and grounded reboot that appropriately gets to have its cake and eat it too. There are a number if genuine surprises the new scare tactics are cleverly assembled. Wes Craven would be proud.