It’s not an easy job to go back to a franchise which has died a slow and rather painful death. The original Scream is a much-loved classic from the late, great horror maestro Wes Craven and it breathed new life into the slasher genre – an outdated sub-genre at its peak in the 1980s – and with a winning combination of a great cast, fun kills and an instantly iconic killer, it proved to be one hell of a franchise opener.
But it went downhill fast from there. While Scream 2 is somewhat great, Scream 3 is almost laughable and Scream 4 no one seems to remember and for a good reason. So for directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, of Ready Or Not fame, to even attempt to bring it back honourably and with enough flair to make the franchise timely again, seems like a terrifying task and one more than likely to fail.
Scream, this new fifth instalment, is mostly a sequel. The oldies are back – Sidney, Gale and Dewey are all still kicking – but it’s mostly the new blood that Ghostface has his knife pointed at. Tara (Jenna Ortega) is attacked by the infamous Ghostface which prompts the return of her estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) who has a terrifying secret that connects her to the bloodstained history of Woodsboro. Soon, the bodies start piling up once again. What follows is a classic Scream whodunnit.
Scream offers very few surprises in terms of the usual franchise pattern, but does a good job at setting almost everyone as a potential suspect with a solid motive. While some characters are shadier than others, the first hour of the film raises enough questions and it’s fun genuinely not knowing who the killer might be. The cast is strong and the younger actors carry the film admirably, but the heart of the film is David Arquette who proves he still has it, keeping the film grounded and the emotional stakes high. This is Arquette’s best turn as old cop Dewey Riley and it’s a pleasure to witness it.
Courtney Cox and Neve Campbell kick ass, but Sidney and Gale are mostly reduced to cameos. It feels necessary that they are back and part of the new narrative, but there simply isn’t enough for them to do. Especially Campbell as Sidney is there to mostly perform the same lines over and over again about her past we’ve heard in previous instalments. It’s frustrating, especially as this Scream makes, in true Scream fashion, a statement about remakes and sequels, but mostly falls victim to the usual sequel mistakes.
What about the kills then, you may ask. Fear not, Scream features the best kills since the original. They’re deliciously simple and satisfying, but Scream never becomes a torture porn film, it never lingers on the bodies and the blood for too long, but just long enough for us to feel satisfied and appropriately grossed out.
But something just doesn’t feel right about Scream. It’s fun, but not fun enough. It’s gory, but it could have been more just a tad more brutal and provided more spectacle. While there are plenty of meta jokes and cool, hip references to The Babadook and It Follows, the film still feels dated. It’s still stuck in the past, unable to escape Craven’s masterful direction and tone. Ultimately, this new Scream feels both old and new. It brings the franchise into modern times better than Scream 4, but can’t quite reach the highs of the original nor does it really manage to say anything meaningful about the state of its world and characters. Scream is solid, but it’s hard not to be a little disappointed.
Scream is in UK cinemas January 14.