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Friday, January 14, 2022

Scream


Given Hollywood's current obsession with reviving dormant properties, it was perhaps inevitable that a movie like Scream was coming down the pipe.  The original 1996 Scream film cleverly paid tribute and poked fun at the slasher genre by having its characters be aware that they were in a horror movie, and the rules of such.  The fun came from watching these characters who knew the rules still find themselves in over their heads.  This sequel (the fifth in the series) has fun tackling such current pop culture topics as toxic fandoms, sequels that take films in an entirely different direction and spark outrage on line, and naturally, dormant film properties getting revived by going "back to basics".

This kind of film is what the characters within it refer to as a "requel".  It's not a remake or a sequel, but it continues the story with a new cast, while paying respect to the past by including the legacy characters that the long-term fans want to see, as well as including callbacks and references to the original.  Taking this approach, the directing team of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (2019's Ready or Not) have created a fitting tribute that understands what made the original film so much fun, and why it still endures today with most fans.  Considering that none of the original creative minds were behind this one, it's clear that the filmmakers have nothing but love, but also know how to add their own creative spin.  This is not just a movie designed to drum up nostalgia like Ghostbusters: Afterlife.  It's vibrant, frequently funny, and brutal in its violence when it needs to be.  The only thing the film doesn't nail is that it's too easy to guess who is behind the new string of murders this time around.  

Just as in the first movie, the film opens with a teenage girl home by herself, receiving a creepy phone call from a mysterious voice (once again provided by voice actor Roger L. Jackson) who wants to play a deadly movie trivia game concerning horror films.  Right off the bat, there's a clever meta twist.  The killer wants to talk about the classic stalkers like Jason or Freddy, but the girl named Tara (Jenna Ortega) doesn't know those kind of movies.  She's more into "arthouse horror" like The Babadook, It Follows, or Hereditary.  Tara has the misfortune of living in the town of Woodsboro, where all the murders in these movies have occurred, with each one inspiring a sequel in the in-universe Stab horror movie franchise.  Those films have been in decline in popularity, and the last film (directed by The Last Jedi's Rian Johnson) infuriated fans by how much it deviated from what came before.  

Now someone is trying to "go back to basics" as it were by posing as the notorious Ghostface Killer, and start a new murder spree that's in line with the original movie and the actual events.  Tara's the first victim, but she survives and is hospitalized.  This brings her estranged and haunted older sister, Sam (Melissa Barrera), back to Woodsboro, along with Sam's boyfriend, Ritchie (Jack Quaid).  Sam naturally has her own bitter past with the town, and it may even have a connection with what is going on.  There's a new fresh-faced cast of young suspects who represent Tara's circle of friends, who are so suspicious of one another once the murders start up, I kind of had a hard time buying them being friends in the first place.  And of course, the original trio of heroes of Sidney (Neve Campbell), Gale (Courtney Cox) and Dewey (David Arquette) show up to help solve the mystery as well.

While Scream is a lot of fun throughout, it's stronger in some aspects than in others.  What it succeeds at, it does beautifully, such as bringing the original characters back into this town that they probably should have nothing to do with after everything that's happened to them in the four prior movies.  In particular, David Arquette gets to do some of the best acting of his career, creating a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of his familiar character.  Campbell and Cox slip right back into their familiar roles, even if they don't get to do anything as challenging as Arquette.  This is also a smart movie, that knows how to play up the meta aspects for humor and satire, while at the same time creating some genuinely tense moments.  It expertly juggles its own tone, and genuinely knows how to get its audience involved.  In all honesty, this is probably one of the better crafted sequels this franchise has seen.

There are just certain elements I could not get behind.  The young cast is largely wasted here and, like I mentioned, I just did not buy them as being friends.  There is no real bond like we expect, and the movie never gives us enough of a reason to care about them or their connection to the mystery at hand.  Also as previously mentioned, it's just too easy to figure out who is behind it all this time around.  The movie uses a lot of tricks to try to throw us off the trail, but despite this, I'm sure many in the audience will feel one step ahead of the story.  Still, what's important here is that the film works.  It's a lot of fun as it plays out, has clever dialogue, and never comes across as diminished returns.  Even if I was aware that certain elements were not as strong as I would have liked, I was still caught up in the experience.


The movie ends with a text tribute to the series' original director, Wes Craven, who passed away in 2015.  It's a fitting way to close out, as I feel he would have been proud with what these filmmakers have done with his later legacy.  Scream is that rare early January release that doesn't feel like something the studio is trying to sweep under the rug.  It's energetic, and that's something very few movies in their fifth entry can say.

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