There are certain rules that one must abide by to successfully create a Scream movie. The first rule is that you need a big group of characters, some of which you will suspect to be the killer, and some will end up getting killed. The second rule is that you need the classic characters — Sidney Prescott, Dewey Riley, and Gale Weathers — to fight Ghostface. The final rule is that you’ll have a twist reveal where you discover who the killers are, and chances are, you won’t see it coming.
Matt Bettinelli-Oplin and Tyler Gillett helm the fifth installment in the long-running slasher franchise, Scream. It is time to return to Woodsboro as a new killer dons the Ghostface mask and begins murdering people, all connected to the town’s deadly past. This film has quite the legacy behind it, bringing in faces new and old to tell another stab-filled story that isn’t one of the series’s better installments but ultimately succeeds at entertaining long-time fans of the series.
The latest installment of the series works well because it adheres to the rules mentioned above. Writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick understood that they didn’t need to update Kevin Williamson’s formula. All you need for a Scream movie is a compelling whodunnit, some humorous meta-commentary on the horror genre, and a few bloody kills, and this movie has all of that. The writers comment on how the horror genre has shifted from mindless jump-scare fests to “elevated horror” focused on dramatic stories and rich themes, and they do an excellent job of it.
As far as the direction, Oplin and Gillett did not hold back. You could tell they wanted to make a film Craven would be proud of, and at times, you can see them toying with the slasher tropes. For example, there is a sequence where you find yourself eagerly anticipating a jump scare that takes a long time to happen, and the fun and games of the genre are updated for the 2020s.
Unfortunately, the film falters every time the writers incorporate character drama into the story. While character conflicts can work marvelously to help an audience care more about the narrative, this movie does it quite poorly. In the opening sequence, a teenage girl named Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) gets attacked by Ghostface. Later, her older sister, Sam (Melissa Barrera), visits her at the hospital and shares a sad story about their family and why it fell apart. However, the film doesn’t allow the audience to spend any time with the sisters before the expository backstory, so the emotional story feels weightless as a result.
This trend continues with the film’s treatment of our legacy characters. The humor is taken away from Sid, Gale, and Dewey, who have surprisingly minor roles in this film. They are thrown into the backseat of a movie where new characters are behind the wheel and Scream can feel like it’s struggling to incorporate them into the plot. Dewey and Gale have divorced, and they share an emotional moment that happens way too early and doesn’t feel organic in the slightest. Many of the film’s moving scenes feel noticeably scripted, with the occasionally melodramatic dialogue and performances.
Unfortunately, Vanderbilt and Busick rely heavily on verbal exposition to draw the audience’s emotional attachment to the characters. For example, there is a scene where Sid explains that she can’t rest until Ghostface is gone because she has a husband and children to take care of. Despite spending 26 years with the character of Sidney Prescott, we never get a glimpse of what her family looks like and how her life looks beyond Ghostface. The movie has more character drama than you would expect, but not enough to end in a satisfying way.
Luckily for audiences everywhere, the movie still has enough to offer by containing all the ingredients that make a Scream movie work. As per usual, the humor is razor-sharp, poking fun at Hollywood remakes and toxic fandom culture, using real-world parallels in hilarious fashion. The whodunnit is excellent and compelling, and it will leave you guessing till the very end. While not the best of the series, it is a moderately enjoyable Scream movie with moments of sound direction and moments where you will miss Williamson’s writing and Craven’s directing. However, you can’t quite go wrong with Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette in their iconic roles.
Ultimately, there are gnarly kills and excellent ideas laden all over this meta throwback slasher that doesn’t quite execute them perfectly.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 6 equates to “Decent.” It fails to reach its full potential and is a run-of-the-mill experience
Disclosure: The critic went to a screening for ComingSoon’s Scream review.