Everything old is new again for the 26-year-old Scream franchise. Once again, to be exact since the late Wes Craven (who unfortunately passed away in 2015) and original screenwriter Kevin Williamson has previously attempted to revive the franchise to sadly uneven results in Scream 4 a.k.a. SCRE4M back in 2011.
And just when I thought the franchise should have stayed dead after the fourth film, here comes another revival nearly 11 years later. Simply titled Scream instead of Scream 5 or even 5cream, the fifth film is more of a “requel” — a term that is part reboot and part sequel. Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett of 2019’s Ready or Not fame, the film gets off to a promising start with the franchise’s signature stalk-and-slash opening sequence. Here, we see the first victim named Tara (Jenna Ortega), who’s all alone at home in Woodsboro receiving anonymous calls from a landline phone (an obvious nod to 1996 original).
If you have seen the previous Scream films, you basically know what will happen next — ringing phones, hesitation, the creepy and mysterious voice of Ghostface (Roger L. Jackson returns for the fifth time in the film franchise) and of course, all the running and stabbings. It’s familiar stuff but credits still go to Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett for their well-orchestrated thrills, suspense and violence.
As the film progresses further, we learn that Tara’s estranged older sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) returns to Woodsboro with her boyfriend, Richie (Jack Quaid). From there, the film also introduces several new characters including Chad and Mindy Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown), Wes Hicks (Dylan Minnette), Liv McKenzie (Sonia Ben Ammar) and Amber Freeman (Mikey Madison).
Likewise, the return of Ghostface is looking to kill victims connected to the past, where Sam ends up seeking help from Dewey Riley (David Arquette), one of the original survivors who manage to endure near-death experiences since the beginning of the Woodsboro massacre. Well, long story short, Ghostface’s reappearance also included the return of Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), both of which are forced to deal with their past all over again.
Frankly, I was initially sceptical about the fifth Scream film for being another desperate attempt to revive the franchise for the new generation. But Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett turned out to be the right directors for the job as they understand what makes Scream such an iconic horror film in the first place. While they still lack the late Wes Craven’s crafty directing chops in combining genuine thrills and meta humour perfected in the 1996 original, the fifth film remains a worthy sequel. The killings are brutal and gruesome whenever Ghostface savagely attacks the victims with a knife. And apart from the thrilling opening sequence, the Halloween II-like hospital setpiece and the bloody final third-act deserve equal mentions as well.
Then, there are the obligatory meta commentaries that defined the franchise since the original. Kevin Williamson may not be directly involved in the screenwriting process but James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick thankfully manage to honour the franchise with plenty of pop-culture references. The kind that I’m sure both fans of Scream and horror genre would appreciate the film’s self-referential humour to old-school franchises (Halloween, Friday the 13th) and today’s era of “elevated horror” genre (The Babadook, It Follows).
The film also has a field day debating about Scream‘s fictional film series Stab and its sequels. At one point, there’s a horror film fanatic Randy Meeks-like (Jamie Kennedy previously played the character in the first two films) moment in the form of Mindy, who talk about the rules of requels and legacy sequels as she mentions popular franchises like Halloween, Terminator and Star Wars. If that’s not enough, the film even takes a stab (no pun intended) at the hot-button topic of toxic fandom, proving there are some juices or should I say, blood left in the otherwise unnecessary Scream revival.
Whereas I enjoy all the meta humour in this film, I can’t help thinking there are a few lapses in logic regarding the convoluted connection between the past and present characters. The characters are a mixed bag, with recurring cast members Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox are sadly relegated to serviceable roles. At least David Arquette manages to deliver a solid supporting turn as Dewey Riley. As for the newcomers to the franchise, both Jenna Ortega and Jasmin Savoy Brown stand out the most as Tara and Mindy respectively.
Scream may not reach the same creative heights as the 1996 original. But at least it comes close and to me, this is the best sequel I’ve ever seen in the franchise.