Walking out of the fifth iteration of the Scream series, now in theaters, my gut had an “uh-oh” feeling. No, it wasn’t the scares that upset my stomach. It certainly wasn’t the characters either. I can’t blame the popcorn because I didn’t have any, nor the fact that I actively avoided the genre until about ten years ago.
I can’t even blame the fact that I’d watched the Wes Craven film of the same name the night before for the very first time.
So, why am I reviewing Scream? I could say it was out of pure intellectual curiosity. I appreciated what Craven brought to the first film, the characters, and Kevin Williamson’s situations to that script. Williamson served as executive producer on this film.
To its credit, Scream from co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Ready or Not) works very hard at creating a thriller. Co-writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick made a broad mix of new and legacy characters from earlier in the series. In a way, this Scream is like a warm blanket, an absurd safety net, if you will. There’s a familiarity about it that eventually turns on itself as a horrific parody.
That feeling of familiarity is, singularly, what makes Scream both work and fall apart.
In the “work” column are Scream’s modern characters and situations. Jenna Ortega’s rough-and-tumble Tara Carpenter has a girlfriend. As a character, the story doesn’t paint her as helpless, having survived an attack by Ghostface. Tara is resilient and isn’t afraid to demonstrate it; she isn’t out to prove anything other than standing her ground.
Family is an essential aspect of Scream, and Melissa Barrera’s Sam Carpenter comes to Tara’s aid. I almost said “rescue,” but that would be too 90s of me.
The two sisters are distant, and the story explains why as Sam and her boyfriend, Richie Kirsch (Jack Quaid, who when the lights and shadows hit him in the right way is the spitting image of his father, Dennis. Yes, that took me a minute.) return to Woodsboro to solve this mystery. Wes Hicks, a frosty-haired Dylan Minnette, connects the past and the present. If the character’s last name sounds familiar, it’s because his mother Judy (Marley Shelton) from the fourth entry in the franchise (so I’m told) keeps Woodsboro safe at night.
As Sam returns, Judy is interrogating Wes, Amber (Mikey Madison), and the twins, Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding), the dimpled jock over the attack. Vanderbilt and Busick weave an interesting conflux of meta situations that give The Matrix Resurrections a run for its money, eventually bringing Dewey (David Arquette), Sidney (Neve Campbell), and Gale (Courteney Cox) back into the fold.
That conflux is where Scream’s story stops working, looking inward for its humor. The characters do work in this film; that’s its strength. Yes, the meta-humor works, yet it’s ladled on with a thick trowel as it acknowledges the toxicity of fandom, the relentless nature of sequels, and the quirks of each character. The story’s points blare like the air horn of a ship entering a dense, fog-filled cove, and its captain is only concerned with avoiding the jetties.
Scream is so busy inward that its setups are nowhere near as inventive as Craven’s were. Despite either wanting to give Williamson’s original characters an Adderall or taking one myself, I didn’t feel the same level of anxiety from Bettinelli-Olpin, Gillett, Vanderbilt, and Busick. Their characters were, rightfully, out to prove that they could handle themselves in each situation. However, that third act felt lifted, literally, from Jonathan Lynn’s Clue.
The “uh-oh” feeling is creeping back in; the blanket of familiarity is too well-worn.
If I hadn’t seen Craven’s classic before seeing the new film, would I feel that same sense of déjà vu out of this Scream? Who’s to say. I’m glad I did, though; it gave context to certain aspects of this new film. It allowed me to appreciate the new characters and the legacy characters, co-directors, and writers.
Still, Scream will please its fans; the meta toxicity be damned. The well-done meta-toxicity was too much, but I can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of the whole exercise to the point that its familiarity was more welcomed than I give it credit.
Perhaps the absurd blanket of familiarity isn’t such a bad thing after all.