I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Scream franchise. The first film did feel fresh and slightly unique at the time. Though personally speaking, I’ve always felt that Wes Craven did the whole self-referential, meta-horror film thing far better a couple of years earlier with New Nightmare.
Anyway, I did enjoy the first Scream and it reinvigorated the dying slasher sub-genre by poking a very self-referential finger at it. Watching the first film now, it feels very cliché but at the time, it really was quite a revelation to the horror genre. Scream 2 decided to take on the topic of sequels with its meta writing. Scream 3 tackled the horror trilogy, while Scream 4 poked fun at horror remakes. The first film really was quite brilliant, the first sequel was okay but the concept was already beginning to feel stale. The third and fourth films, which I have seen, I couldn’t tell you a thing about them as they were so unforgettable and tired.
Now twenty-six years after that first iconic movie comes Scream 5… or just Scream as it is titled. My dislike for movies that fuck up their titles like this aside, this fifth film also has a horror film subject as it attempts to make light of, the reboot/sequel… or requel as the kids say these days.
Okay, so I’m not doing spoilers here, so this is safe to read if you have not yet seen Scream… the fifth film, not the original film.
Scream wastes no time in getting to the meta writing as it opens up with what is basically a remake of the opening scene from the original film… as seen in the trailer. Let this set the tone for what this film is. A film that very heavily references the first film while trying to be new. Scream falls into the whole legacy sequel thing that is on-trend right now. A sequel to a film from a few decades ago trying to breathe new life into an older franchise.
This being a Scream film means it can have a bit more fun with that idea thanks to its meta writing. Of course there is a scene where people sit around and talk about requels. Of course there’s a reference to ‘passing the torch’. Of course there is the return of some of the original cast to show the newbies how it’s done. The trouble is, this shit just isn’t fresh anymore, it’s about twenty-six years out of date.
So the basic plot of Scream is that the in-universe film series, called Stab, is floundering now it is at its eighth instalment, stylised as Sta8 (poking fun that Scream 4 was stylised as Scre4m). As the Stab films are (now) very loosely based on the events derived from the first film and are not very good, as they have begun to take severe liberties… like giving the killer a flamethrower. So someone decides to restart the famed Ghostface killings and teens begin to turn up dead so that perhaps the Stab films will have something new and realistic to be based on. Dewey has become a recluse after his divorce from Gale but the teens convince him to look into Ghostface attacks. Dewey gets in contact with both Sidney and Gale and the trio turn up to sort things out.
That is your basic plot, though there are a few more spoilery details that I’m skipping over. How best to sum up Scream? It’s a Scream sequel… that’s about it. The film isn’t terribly awful but it doesn’t really do anything you haven’t already seen before… especially if you have watched the Scream sequels before it. David Arquette’s Dewey is by far the best character in the franchise and it is great to see him back here. It’s also a very different Dewey who has changed following the events of the franchise. He is no longer the goofy Deputy Sheriff of Woodsboro, he’s actually pretty bad-ass here, while being a broken man. Then you have Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers and she is still a bit bitchy if not just a tad softer when she wants to be. Yes, Sidney Prescott is back and played by Neve Campbell and she is fine I guess. But if anyone is the standout here, then that has to be David Arquette.
The new cast are your typical teens played by people way too old to be playing teens. I don’t even think I could tell you one of the new character’s names off the top of my head because they are so stereotypical and bland. The only name I remember is a character called Wes and that is because I’m pretty sure he is a reference to the series’ original director and master of the horror genre, Wes Craven. Wes isn’t behind the camera for this one as he sadly passed away back in 2015.
Scream has a multitude of references and throwbacks to the first film. There are some subtle and not so subtle returns of some other characters from the original. Plus the fact that this is set in Woodsboro once more, you’ll also get to see some familiar locations. This almost feels like one of those legacy sequels that ignores the franchise’s other sequels… almost. There are returning characters from Scream 4, so the events of the other films most definitely did happen. In this regard, Scream kind of feels like Ghostbusters: Afterlife in how that film heavily referenced the first film but mostly ignored Ghostbusters II… even though Ghostbusters II did happen. Scream just references Scream (see the issue with the title?) more so than the other films in the series and this makes it feel like it is ignoring the other sequels when it isn’t.
This isn’t a scary film at all but then again, I don’t think the Scream films ever really were. There are quite a few bloody kills but those feel very ‘seen it all before’ as there really is only a handful of ways to kill someone with a knife. People get stabbed in the neck, in the back, in the chest, in the legs. There is nothing imaginative or creative in any of the death scenes (or the fakeouts) at all. The surprises are minimal and you should be able to work out who the killer is before you get to the halfway point, especially if you have seen any of the previous films in the franchise and know all the signs and false signs.
It is the writing of the Scream films where the real attraction lies. The meta humour, nods and references to other horror films, the ‘satirical’ sideways look at the horror genre. Yes, Scream has this in spades but very rarely does it feel like the writing pops in the same way it did in the first, and for most of the second film. The concept of the meta-horror film has been done to death and Scream really doesn’t do anything worthy with it here. For me, the whole meta-horror film idea peaked with Scream 2 and never really got any better.
There were a few lines and references here that kind of worked but for the most part, it was tiresome and predictable with a lot of recycling tired, old ideas without a sense of irony. Yes, the title of Scream (instead of Scream 5) gets a reference. There is a bit of dialogue calling out ‘toxic fans’ in what felt like a preemptive attempt at shielding against the negative press this film could quite easily amass. Yet, Scream has been getting loads of massively positive press and I can not work out why. The film is okay at best. I loved the first film, the first sequel was pretty damn decent too. After that, they got a bit ‘meh’ and this sequel is very much at that level of quality. Scream is Scream 3 & 4 okay-ish and not Scream 1 & 2 levels of cleverness.
If you are a die-hard fan of the franchise, you’ll probably get more out of this than I did. I got a very okay film with a concept that just feels outdated now. Scream movies put me in mind of knock-knock jokes. The subject may change but the structure, the delivery and the payoff is always the same. Still, as annoying as the title Scream is for the fifth film, at least they didn’t call it 5cream.