By the mid-90s, the horror genre was half a decade away from the slasher film boom of the 1980s, where icons like Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Freddy Krueger dominated the box office. Slasher film characteristics were still present and reinvented in films like 1992's Candyman, but the oversaturation of franchises churning sequel after sequel produced more humor than horror. The worst part, the scare factor became nearly nonexistent.
However, in 1996, legendary filmmaker Wes Craven, responsible for conjuring an iconic figure of horror cinema in the 80s with Freddy Krueger, continued to push the genre forward with Scream. This film transformed the landscape of genre storytelling by developing a narrative that reflected and acknowledged the plot and character tropes and stereotypes of horror films that came before. It was intelligent, funny, and, most importantly, scary. And for many horror fans, this film would grow to become the answer to the question, "What's your favorite scary movie?"
The legacy of Woodsboro's murderous past continues in Scream, co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett's continuation of Wes Craven's vision of modernized horror. Coming 11 years after the ahead-of-its-time Scream 4 and with the absence of Wes Craven, who passed away six years ago, this updated invention of Scream holds firmly to the tradition of the past, paying homage to the extent of becoming lost in its self-referential designs. Scream applies, reapplies, and slightly modifies the original film's formula, crafting a clever but redundant update.
A new killer dons the Ghostface mask and begins accumulating a deadly body count of teens in Woodsboro, California. Tara (Jenna Ortega) is brutally attacked in her home, her estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) returns to her hometown, bringing her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) along for the journey. Past secrets and long-forgotten memories are resurrected, connecting the past to the present and bringing survivors Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Dewey Riley (David Arquette), and Gail Weathers (Courteney Cox) back to the town they have tried so desperately to escape.
Screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick return viewers to familiar territory, bringing back characters from past films while also trying to summon the essence of the original movie. The film crafts one of the best cold openings since the original in the process. The dialog banter between a young teenage girl with love for "elevated horror" and a sinister voice-on-the-phone with a passion for the "classics" is sharp and witty. It's an amusing callback to the original that is updated and subverted enough to launch this film as a fun, gory mystery.
But as things take shape, with a Ghostface who is always one step ahead of everyone, the group of young people tries to connect the dots of who might be the mastermind under the mask. They self-describe their involvement in this new murder mystery as a "requel," a cross between a reboot and a sequel. Beyond the meta-analysis of horror movies of recent years, the film also examines the aspect of toxic fandom. It's a unique perspective to explore in the world of pop culture, where fans expect that their favorite character, story, or universe should go on forever. Along with the heightened expectation of getting everything they want from their favorite thing. Can we imagine a world where Marvel movies don't exist anymore? Will Michael Myers ever go away? Will the new Hellraiser movie meet all my unreasonable expectations? Unfortunately, this thoughtful focus is executed with both satisfying and irritating twists and turns in the film.
The enjoyable pieces all involve unraveling the secret, the whodunit of the slasher motifs utilized. The annoying parts exist with the development of the characters, both old and new, missing the strong characteristics used so effectively in the past films. Even the return of Sidney, Dewey, and Gail is awkwardly instituted into the narrative; with the exception of Dewey, both Gail and Sidney are afterthoughts until the finale.
Scream starts with a bang, a clever and thoughtful reintroduction of the classic horror franchise that revolutionized horror storytelling. The thrills are fun, gory, and violent in the best ways for horror fans. As it namechecks other films, like The Witch and The Babadook, with a mix of admiration and admonishment to serve its meta-narrative causes, Scream pushes into a corner with no place to escape. In the process of revisiting, reintroducing, and reforming this continuation of Scream, it becomes too self-aware of its designs.
Movie Score: 3/5