Someone has taken their love for franchises one step too far…
Modern cinema is drowning in nostalgia and the obsession to update all that is old. Ghostbusters, Spider-Man, The Matrix, all franchises that recently cashed in on the trend of fan servicey legacyquels – although The Matrix Resurrections seemed disgruntled with it’s own existence. But it was only a matter of time before everyone’s favorite meta franchise were to weigh in on the craziness surrounding insane fandoms and utilizing IP to resurrect long-dead characters and storylines. Scream is back, here to comment on just who actually might be responsible for the current status quo of genre filmmaking.
Our new story takes place 25 years after the events of the original, and it isn’t long before there’s some bloodshed in Woodsborrow. However, when the murders start, it doesn’t appear that Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is the ultimate target. Instead, a new killer, with an unhealthy obsession with the fictional film series Stab, begins targeting a young group of friends in Woodsboro who all have connections to characters from the original Scream. This includes a new heroine, Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera). It’s revealed that Ghostface knows something of grave importance about Sam’s past, and this secret may be the reason all of this is happening.
Eventually, the characters all realize they’re in a “Requel” – a combination of a reboot and sequel that continues a storyline (that probably didn’t need to be continued), by bringing legacy characters together with brand new characters who are meant to assume the torch of the franchise. The killer(s), our characters surmise, is pissed at the state of horror, and the state of the Stab franchise, and wants to make new murders that can possibly inspire a “Requel” for the Stab series. Even for a series like Scream, known for discussing genre tropes out loud, this is pretty nerdy and Inside Baseball. One character, when asked to explain “Elevated Horror”, has a ready-made definition that is so eloquent that it sounds less like a teenager speaking off the cuff, and more like a middle-aged screenwriter importing the definition from a Slate article.
Even so, seeing these characters get so unapologetically geeky is part of the fun. One of our new characters is Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), the niece of Randy Meeks. Keeping with her uncle’s legacy, it is she who lays down the ground rules for the Requel, and reminds everyone of what not to do in a horror movie. What makes it believable is the idea that a girl like this certainly exists in the world, and her bi-racial ethnicity helps illustrate the evolution of fandom from centering solely on white males.
As the stakes get higher, it’s only a matter of time before legacy characters Sydney, Dewey Riley (David Arquette), and Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) are roped back into the story. However, this is the first Scream where it doesn’t really feel like their story – they are here to help elevate the newcomers. However, there are still unfinished story threads left to wander, mostly to do with the relationship between Gale and Dewey that feels very similar to the dynamic between Leia and Han Solo in The Force Awakens.
This is the first Scream without the late Wes Craven in the director’s chair, replaced here by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet (Ready Or Not). They have a diverging style from Craven, turning the film almost into a theatrical CW show, whereas Craven’s films seemed like a soap opera converging with the theatricality of a Giallo film. And of course, the kills are more elaborate, a bit inspired by the brutality of Halloween (2018). However, Ghostface still gets their ass kicked aplenty.
Where the suspension of disbelief comes in is how cavalier Ghostface is with hiding their crimes – this mfer is targeting people in broad daylight, at parties, at a bar! And all with very little concealment unlike past films. The plot armor is immense, including absurd attacks at what must be the worse run hospital in history. Weirdly, for a story involving a killer with an infamous, 25-year-long modus operandi, the cops are largely useless. They’re called to one attack in progress, and luckily they’re able to get to the scene of the crime – a good 35 years later. Later, a couple of characters know they’re going to Ghostface’s location, yet the thought to call the police never crosses their mind. So much for cellphones changing slasher movies. We’re essentially dealing with vigilantes now, who will take the law into their own hands. Scream 6 may feature a Final Girls Tower, where the Woodsborrow Avengers are ready to save the day.
Admittedly, Scream 5 is a fun ride, but it is held back by an inability to generate genuine scares or characters with believable psychology. When the killer’s motivation is revealed, it is such a parody of fanboy whining that it becomes a cardboard cutout of a character. Say what you will about the inconsistent writing in the franchise, but the killers are usually motivated by some type of understandable goal – whether that be revenge, fame, unrequited love, or even the opportunity to pay their college tuition. Here, the killer is upset about a movie – and that’s pretty much it. There’s no depth, it’s just dunking on toxic fandom. Don’t get me wrong, they deserve to get dunked on, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of better writing.
Then there’s the case of Sam Carpenter, who represents the good and the bad of the screenplay. On the one hand, her care for her loved ones is well illustrated and makes up a good part of what works about the film’s narrative. However, there are other reveals about her character that do not work quite as well, relying on manipulation of the audience that seems a bit unreasonable, especially for long-time fans of the franchise. At one point, the film attempts to take a dead character and position them in an entirely different light. It’s weird seeing this character utilized as some sort of positive symbol, when they were anything but in life, and it doesn’t help the audience empathize with what’s happening onscreen.
However, confusing emotional stakes can be forgiven if the story is structured properly, and the mystery is reasonably difficult to solve. But Scream has reveals and reversals that you can see coming a mile away, as the film’s misdirection is largely nonexistent. And if the movie needs to get from point A to point B, it will take the easy way out to do so. Instead of devising a creative way for people to leave a party, we’ll just force everyone out of the party in the most transparent way possible. Sydney needs to track someone? She’ll just have the tech on her to do so because she has clairvoyance.
Scream is more meta than ever, not surprising since the audience is more aware of genre tropes and terminology than they’ve ever been. Hell, the title itself is meta, ejecting the “5” in order to make fun of movies that don’t want to call attention to how long their franchise has been going on. But this fascination with a winking, satirical post-modernism is perhaps taking away from the meat and potatoes of good screenwriting. It’s hard to draw emotion out of your story when the audience is constantly reminded that what’s happening is fake, or when logic is so frequently stretched to its limits. Scream (uh, the first one, the one that didn’t have a number) worked because the satire and in-jokes were there to signal to the audience that your intelligence wasn’t going to be insulted, but the heart of the story was still played straight. There was still a chilling atmosphere, a healthy amount of scares, and two lead characters whose emotional turmoil made sense in the context of the conflict. Here, everything feels like it weighs a lot less. There’s a lot of references in the dialogue to the “Elevated Horror” subgenre, and how that corner is dependent more on emotional resonance rather than cheap thrills. But there’s no reason why a slasher movie can’t have both, Scream already did it (again, the one without a number).