When the first Scream dropped back in the mid-90s, our jeans were comically oversized, our Holes were full of Doll Parts, and Charlie Kaufman had yet to make meta-fiction into hard work. It was cute and cheeky, but weren’t we all back then? Some 25 years later, what was once fresh and young now carries so much baggage, so many expectations, and so little spontaneity. Yes, that applies to both the Scream franchise and anyone alive enough to vividly remember 1996.
The latest installment is a “re-quel,” a hybrid reboot and sequel. Apologies to theologians, but the mere existence of that term disproves the existence of a merciful God. Within the first few minutes of Scream, mercifully not called 5cream but inexplicably not called Scream 5, they tell you what you’re in for. A girl named Tara (Jenna Ortega) takes a phone call on an actual landline, against all sanity and good judgment. A maniacal killer discusses the events of the original Scream filtered through the lens of Stab, the fictional film series inside the Scream universe, which depicts the events that happened in the original Scream. Follow me? If so, keep reading. If not, you probably have all your original knee cartilage and a TikTok account, huh?
Tara’s sister, Sam (Melissa Barrera), comes back from self-exile to the town of Woodsboro, where the murder-per-population number is a nifty 1-to-1. Sam’s got a secret, revealed quite early, that makes her a target of the new killer with a Ghostface mask. As her boyfriend, Richie (Jack Quaid), desperately tries to get up to speed on the events of the Stab franchise, and thus the events of the first four real-life Scream movies, Sam calls for reinforcements. That just means Dewey (David Arquette), the former bumbling sheriff from the original flicks. He calls Sydney (Neve Campbell) and his ex, Gale (Courtney Cox). Before long, the old-timer survivors mix ranks with the new crop of victims/potential killers. Many observations about the state of modern horror films are made, involving multiple mispronunciations of The Babadook.
The most interesting element of nu-Scream are the villainous motivations, which thankfully can actually be discussed without spoiling anything. It involves toxic fandom, the weaponization of which is absolutely inevitable in real life and deployed in this movie. In the same way that you can chart amoeba’s progress into humanity, a chart will one day link fanfiction to at least one mass murder. The fact that Rian Johnson, director of The Last Jedi, gets name checked here is not an accident. Not that Scream movies have ever had anything big to say, but this is a semi-noble and long overdue acknowledgement of the actual horrible incident we all know is lurking in the future.
Speaking of horrible… Scream would have been a mild gas if it were about 30 minutes shorter and two thirds of the young cast were made up of different performers. Barrera is as inert as she is uncharismatic. Her Gen Z peers do her no favors, ranging from clunkily on-the-nose with their line delivery to upsettingly tone deaf in performance. Arquette has always been underrated, but he feels like a multiple Oscar winner here. Campbell and Cox also gamely show that they actually understand what movie they’re in. The torch that has been passed to the newcomers feels like a burning bush to anyone with affinity for the series.
But maybe I’m just old. Or just one of the lame “elevated horror” lovers who chortled at the Hereditary death recreation. Maybe my era of Scream is over, and the future belongs to people who don’t even know what JNCO is (or was). If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that everyone deserves, needs, and will find their own scream.
Grade = B
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Hanna Flint at The Big Issue says, “what I appreciate about both films is their efforts to interrogate, well, maybe not interrogate, let’s say poke fun at the way audiences interpret and misinterpret pop culture, and even claim ownership of artistic work too. “
Rendy at Rendy Reviews says “For a January movie, Ghostface stabbed me in the chest and said, ‘You’re gonna give this a high-ass star rating like you did Paddington 2.’”
Kristy Puchko at Mashable says “Sure, this Scream delivers in chills, thrills, and darkly funny moments. But its ending is less haunting than hectic. So, in the end, it doesn’t cut deep.