Synopsis: Twenty-five years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, a new killer has donned the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town’s deadly past.
Stars: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jack Quaid, Mikey Madison, Dylan Minnette, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Sonia Ammar, Marley Shelton, Kyle Gallner, Reggie Conquest, Chester Tam, Roger L. Jackson
Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
Running Length: 114 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: “What’s your favorite scary movie?” may now be a cultural touchstone phrase forever related to the classic film Scream, but it’s always been a litmus test to see where the person being asked falls on the scale of horror fandom. If the answer is a deep cut, something from the Italian Giallo master Dario Argento or French cult vampire director Jean Rollin, you know you’re dealing with someone that has ventured further than the confines of their neighborhood video store. Answering with a more commercially minded offering like a Friday the 13th or a Halloween tells you you’re in the presence of a person that doesn’t mind some blood, gore, and jump scares. Get a response from a Frankenstein fraidy-cat and you may want to reconsider suggesting anything stronger than a black and white Universal classic.
For many, the answer to the question posed by the killer to Drew Barrymore’s doomed character in 1996 is, in fact, the very movie that asked it to begin with. Scream opened to soft business in Christmas only to grow into a word-of-mouth hit, so much so that by the time the enjoyable sequel was released in 1997 both films had the distinction of being 1997’s top earners. Fans of the franchise are legion, and after two more sequels (one in 2000 and the last one in 2011) it has amassed a devoted base that can and have spent much time arguing over the official order of quality, though you’d be hard pressed to find a list that doesn’t put the one that started it all in the prime spot. For the record, I’m a 1, 2, 4, 3.
Though the title lived on in television under the guise of an MTV scripted series with no ties to the original cast or setting, the first two seasons attempted to tell a continuing tale before killing off much of its YA cast. I didn’t even bother with the third, standalone season, and from what I’ve heard that was for the best. After the success of the continuation of Halloween in 2018, it still was a surprise when it was announced in March 2020 that Radio Silence, a filmmaking collective which found success in indie horror before making a snazzy showing in 2019]’s impressive Ready or Not, would direct and executive produce a fifth Scream movie incorporating original cast members with a new group of teens stalked by a vengeance-seeking killer. As a dedicated fan of the films and the franchise in general (not to mention a number of the previous films Radio Silence has produced), I was thrilled for another gathering of my favorite cast members and a return to the whodunit slasher film that I have a true fondness for.
Needless to say, as we move forward into the meat of the movie, this is a spoiler-free zone. Aside from watching the first trailer for the movie the day it was released, I haven’t watched any other marketing for the film so can’t say what may be in the previews that could be a potential spoiler…but I won’t be giving away anything that could ruin your experience.
Well…maybe one thing. And that’s my feeling toward the finished movie. Surprising myself, I left the theater after my screening of Scream (which, it should be strongly stated, is Scream 5, no matter how the filmmakers and studio try to spin it) sort of aghast at how much against it I felt. The more I heard how many people did like it, the more I was wondering if I just saw something different or my tastes had changed…but this was almost directly after gleefully binge-watching the previous four films. Delivering on the “goods” if you will (read: killings, blood, and guts) but shortchanging fans that know their Woodsboro ins and outs with a number of discrepancies and head scratching choices, the screenplay from James Vanderbilt (White House Down) and Guy Busick attempts to make connections to the past at the outset but abandons its own efforts by the messy end. Worse, the film suffers from a strong case of the unlikeables, characters and cast members that either don’t appear long enough to create much of an impression before they’re sliced or grate on the nerves to the point where you feel like paging Ghostface stat to get on with the show.
It’s been twenty-five years since the original murder spree changed the sleepy town of Woodsboro forever. The survivors of the attack a generation ago have encountered several copycat slayings over the subsequent years but for the last decade there has been a peaceful silence which has allowed lives to be led without much fear. Then Tara (Jenna Ortega, Insidious: Chapter 2) gets a phone call while alone in her house and hears a voice familiar to us but unfamiliar to her. Remember, Stab (the movie within Scream 2 based off of the events in Scream 1) came out over two decades before and its sequels have long since fizzled out. Poor Tara should have stayed up to date on her old-school horror trivia because things don’t go well for her when quizzed on her knowledge of Stab and Woodsboro’s sordid history.
Hearing the news about her sister from a town far outside of Woodsboro, Sam (Melissa Barrera, In the Heights) returns with her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid, Rampage) just as secrets from her family’s past and a clever killer targeting those with ties to the 1996 murder spree emerge from the shadows. Teaming up with Tara’s friends, among them Amber (Mikey Madison, It Takes Three), twins Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sound of Violence) and Chad (Mason Gooding, Booksmart) and Wes (Dylan Minnette, Prisoners), Sam and Richie eventually realize they’ll need the help of the remaining few who’ve experienced this before if they have any hope of surviving the game plan of a killer (or killers?) always several steps ahead of them. Enter Dewey, Gale, and Sidney.
To say the film feels lighter the moment even one of the legacy cast members is on screen is an understatement. Originally meant to be killed off in the first film and then set to die in the sequel, original director of the first four films Wes Craven and his producing partners had such a strong reaction to David Arquette’s (You Cannot Kill David Arquette) portrayal of Deputy Dewey Riley (not to mention his popularity with fans) that they made sure to shoot endings where he lived. And you’ll be especially glad he did because his presence in this entry is so useful, bringing not only that trademark goofiness to the role but an emotional sweetness that has always defined the role and made it unmistakably his. Noticeably absent for much of the film are Courtney Cox (Masters of the Universe) and Neve Campbell (Skyscraper), but they’re like that time Madonna made all of us at her concert wait two hours after the opening act before she went on. By the time she showed up, we were more than antsy but when she did…it was completely worth it. Same goes here and not only do Cox and Campbell fit right back into their characters like no time has passed, they highlight the biggest problem with the movie for me. The acting.
I’m not sure what’s up with this cast but I think each and every one of them I’ve seen and liked far better in other projects. Here, it’s like no one was acting in the same movie or playing off of one another to any winning effect. It’s never more evident than with Barrera who has some of the strangest line readings, coming off as emotionless when the scene calls for drama and often absent as strong support for those she is acting opposite. I felt for Ortega who is acting her face off, performing the role like it’s the last thing she’ll ever do. I wish the performance (which, to be clear, is solid) was in a different movie she was headlining. Brown is another standout, finding herself a nice match for the dialogue which has some hints at original scribe Kevin Williamson’s quick meta banter but never reaches that same smirking bar which made Williamson’s screenplays, for lack of a better word, iconic.
Which brings me to another low-ish point. Vanderbilt and Busick don’t have Williamson’s knack for snappy phrasing, relying much more on accessing the characters F-Bomb portal than having them volley back-and-forth. While Brown gets those nice moments to explain the rules surrounding a ‘requel’, too many references are made to fifth entries not living up to their potential, being ill-advised, not being titled correctly, etc…. basically heading off all the naysayers at the pass and beating the critics to their punches. In that way, the script starts to feel like it’s apologizing for itself instead of creating its own playing field. A few missed opportunities along the way exist, making you wonder if there wasn’t more to the story that was left on the cutting room floor or if the screenwriters are saving something for potential sequel routes.
Perhaps you can tie some of it back to that Wes Craven touch which guided those first four films. Dying of brain cancer in 2015, Craven was never going to be a part of this new film and while no one is claiming the previous sequels to be flawless (let’s face it, as fun as Scream 3 was, it was also silly and falling apart at the seams) or that Craven was a can’t miss director, he set the look and feel of the franchise from the start…down to Marco Beltrami’s score which I was also sad to see wasn’t back. Yet…you just can’t divest yourself from feeling that if directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett were attempting to honor Craven they would have displayed some of his knack for spotting acting talent on the cusp of greatness. Going into more details is definitely tipping the scale toward spoilers…but we can chat after you’ve seen it and I can explain more.
I’m disappointed for myself that I didn’t like the movie a little more than I did. This isn’t about living in any kind of past because onward we must travel, especially if we want the things we hold dear to continue to thrive. Personally, I hope this Scream makes huge bucks (all signs point to a big YES in that department) and more films in a similar vein are made. I would ask, please, that the same kind of focus is put on the key pieces that elevate a movie to classic status though. The original cast and script of 1996’s Scream simply can’t be beat, even all these years later. I can’t say the same for this continuation…but trust me, I wanted to.
Now…I’m a 1, 2, 4, 5, 3 person.