Is anyone else getting as tired as I am of the formulaic way so many franchises have been "reinvigorated" over the past few years? Find some way to ensure the film connects to the original. Have at least one character from the first movie to help push those nostalgia/familiarity buttons. Make up for any weak plotting and poor scripting with some extra FX work. Oh, and have one big surprise, or death, that doesn't really feel all that surprising. Horror movies get a bonus for allowing a central character from the original to face their fear while showing how the trauma of being stalked by a crazed killer has affected their life. From the Star Wars movies to the Halloween movies, and now Scream, this is the way it works. I WAS looking forward to the next instalment in the wildly uneven The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, but now I am not so optimistic.
Scream starts, funnily enough, with a phone ringing. A young girl, Tara (Jenna Ortega), is attacked in her home. That attack brings her sister, Sam (Melissa Barrera), back home to Woodsboro. Sam is with her boyfriend, Richie (Jack Quaid), and she introduces him to a group of sort-of-friends that includes Amber (Mikey Madison), Wes (Dylan Minnette), twins Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding), and Liv (Sonia Ammar). Everyone wants to survive the latest potential ghostface killings, but everyone is also a suspect. That's why Sam gets in touch with Dewey Riley (David Arquette), who subsequently warns Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) to stay far away.
The first film in the Scream movie series to be directed by anyone other than Wes Craven, and the second script not written by Kevin Williamson, this is a film that very much highlights the lack of both of these talents behind the camera. Not that directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are bad. I've enjoyed most of their work before this, to varying degrees, and they stay firmly in control of the mechanics of the film, as it were, with the actual visuals and editing here being the least of the problems with the film. The overall feel of the film still lacks something though, that confidence and playfulness that Craven could wind through all of his better works. That is never more apparent than in a sequence that should be playful and fun, with the frame being blocked in ways that leads viewers to expect a jump scare at any moment, but instead ends up irritating and tiresome as it plays the same trick in a couple of different ways.
Never mind the directors though, especially when the writers, James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, have to shoulder almost all of the blame for how bad this is. It's probably easier for me to list my criticisms of the script here in a series of bullet points.
* A distinct lack of tension. In attempting to feel fun and unpredictable, the writers made this arguably the most predictable, and therefore boring, entry in the series. So far.
* A killer so obvious that I really hoped my gut feeling was wrong. It wasn't. I saw the end of this thing coming a mile away. That's down to sloppy writing, whether it's to do with just dismissing characters until they start to become more prominent when you know the final reveal is due or interactions between characters that feel like they're pointing a neon-lit arrow at someone.
* The meta commentary here is awful, and I mean AWFUL. This is, in certain ways, very similar to The Matrix Resurrections, but that film showed how you could do super-smart commentary on events that also discuss the very film you are watching without feeling like a lecture delivered by idiots misunderstanding the appeal of their own source material.
* As subjective as it is, a lot of the humour doesn't work. I would also argue that a lot of the new characters don't work, but I'd say it's about a 50/50 with who I liked and who I didn't (although not liking the new lead is a big stumbling block).
* There's one character depicted in "visions" here, and it's a very bad move. It's usually best to leave that trope to Stephen King, who has used it so often that it's part of his comforting appeal when I read his stories.
* Putting even more emphasis on the Stab films, but without the wit or fun cameos that have been there in previous excerpts from the film-within-the-film series.
* As difficult as it is to confirm the feeling in my gut, the characters generally feel dumber in this film. Being so easily separated, being fooled by tech that should surely be avoided, and turning up somewhere after being specifically warned to stay away. These things have always happened in the Scream movies, and many other horror movies, but characters used to end up reluctantly "breaking the rules" as dangerous situations forced them to make difficult decisions in the heat of the moment.
Do the writers get anything right, in between silly moments like showcasing the "Randy Meeks Memorial Home Theater"? Yes. It's a shame that they can only deal with the characters of Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers by merging them into some kind of symbiotic Laurie Strode-alike, but they do a lot better by Dewey Riley, giving Arquette some of the best scenes that he's had in the series. I also liked Quaid's character, the easy interplay between Brown and Gooding, and the fact that we had a bit more time with Sheriff Judy Hicks (played by Marley Shelton, reprising her character that I enjoyed in Scream 4).
Arquette is the heart of the film, which leads to the presence of Campbell and Cox feeling much more forced (despite it being obvious that they need to come into the picture at some point). Barrera and Ortega are disappointing, considering that viewers spend so much time with them. The former has to handle some of the more ludicrous moments, not really her fault, and the latter just doesn't feel like an important part of the cast once that opening sequence has finished. Quaid has enough charm and likability to make the most of his role, and I've just mentioned the enjoyability of Brown and Gooding in the last paragraph. Madison, Ammar and Minnette are there to make up the numbers, and there are a couple of enjoyable cameos to watch out for, as well as one awful one.
I won't deny that I enjoyed sitting in a cinema and hearing "Red Right Hand" accompanying some Woodsboro scenery, and there are a few bits of fairly graphic brutality that at least make Ghostface seem even more driven and vicious this time around, but I was very unhappy by the time the end credits rolled. Some have already been celebrating the fact that a sequel to this has already been greenlit. I would prefer if the series provided one last big twist, and just left an iconic killer to stay dead and buried now that the film-makers seem to have nowhere else to take the story.
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