One of the endearing qualities of the 1996 film Scream is way it navigated multiple lanes. For all its “meta” moments, what made the slasher film an instant classic was intricated way Wes Craven built the tension.
The delicate balance between sly humour and genuine chills is something that the sequels have wrestled with over the years. Some have been successful in recapturing the essence of the original, while others have missed the mark completely. For the entries in the canon that swung big but failed to make contact, the problem often resided in the fact that they were more concerned with packing in as many cinematic references as possible than constructing a compelling story. Sadly, it is in this camp where Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s latest incarnation of Scream resides.
Attempting to rejuvenate the franchise for a whole new generation, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett take audiences back to where it all began. 25 years after the quiet town of Woodsboro was terrorized by the Ghostface murders, blood is being spilt once again. When Samantha “Sam” Carpenter’s (Melissa Barrera) younger sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) is attacked by a knife wielding assailant in a Ghostface mask, she has no choice but to return to the town she fled 18 years ago. Accompanied by her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid), Sam attempts to uncover who could have attacked her sister while wondering if her own secretive past might have somehow played a role.
Unfortunately for Sam, the past rarely remains buried for long in Woodsboro. As the bodies begin to pile up, and Tara’s close-knit group of friends become the prime suspects, Sam finds herself reaching out to former police officer Dewey Riley (David Arquette) for help. Having survived multiple encounters with Ghostface over the years, Dewey knows that nothing is ever random when it comes to the masked killer. If Ghostface is back in town, then that means he and fellow survivors Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) are also in danger.
It does not take long for Scream to fall into the familiar rhythms of its predecessors. There are numerous nods and easter eggs that reference both the previous films and the fictional franchise Stab. As one would expect, Tara’s group of friends are well-versed in all the horror tropes and the rules that need to be followed if one hopes to make it out alive. While there has always been a certain glee that comes with revisiting the world of the Scream franchise, the shine has finally rubbed off in Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett’s version.
This film is so obsessed with paying as much “meta” homage to the original as possible that it forgets what made Wes Craven’s 1996 version standout in the first place. This version lacks both chills and originality. The contrived hospital sequence, where a key showdown with Ghostface is ultimately decided by a cellphone, is a perfect example of this. Characters repeatedly make illogical decisions, despite constantly preaching “the rules” to others, throughout the film. Many of these choices do little to move the plot forward. Even when Ghostface is finally unmasked, the reveal and the explanation is far from satisfying.
While guessing who the killer, or killers, might be was a fun aspect of the earlier films, it has just become tedious now. The new characters are simply not that interesting. They also lack the basic empathy to truly understand the weight of trauma that individuals like Sydney, Gale and Dewey carry. They merely see them as celebs from another era. Just as Tara and her friends are emotionally removed from Woodsboro’s past, the film feels distant from where the horror genre has gone since Scream 4 was released over a decade ago. The film makes plenty of jokes about “elevated horror” that now dominates the genre, but Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett’s lacks the creativity of the films it mocks. Once the cool kid on the block, the Scream franchise is now stuck in a rut longing for the glory days of the past.
Bonus Features: Filmmaker Commentary, Deleted Scenes, New Blood, Bloodlines, In the Shadow of the Master, Scream 1996 Trailer