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MOVIES: Scream - Review

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Scream successfully ticks off all the legacy sequel checklists – it knows it’s one and tackles the genre head-on, calling out past legacy sequels in the process. It’s very much another meta horror film that asks whether or not there’s still a place for slasher in the age of elevated horror, with characters outwardly lifting examples of the genre moments before Ghostface attacks them – The Babadook, It Follows and The Witch are namedropped, cult favourites that highlight the genre. But this is nothing new – Scream has always been this way – Scre4m had a character video recording the whole thing, for example – and the film acted as a commentary on how teenagers’ lives are affected by always being online. This was in 2011. In 2022 – is there a place for a Scream movie, an old-school slasher?

The answer is very much so – it arrives with a confident, assured approach – the direction by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett is no Wes Craven, and they acknowledge that – but the legacy of Craven is felt everywhere. From the first attack – a replica of the iconic opening scene in Scream to a T, successfully modernised, when Ghostface attacks Jenna Ortega’s asthmatic Tara Carpenter, prompting her estranged sister Sam to return to Woodsboro with her boyfriend Richie (played by a hilarious Jack Quaid), bringing up the past as the bodycount increases. Various rules come back to play of being involved in the Scream franchise that Scream sticks to – it’s always someone you know, part of the core group of friends of the first victim, the final showdown must happen at a party – and there’s always two killers.

The film successfully mixes in the old with the new. David Arquette is the MVP of the returning cast – former Sherriff Dewey Riley has split up from Cortney Cox’s Gale Weathers (again), unable to hack it anywhere but Woodsboro – and is the first point of call for Sam after Tara is attacked. Dewey’s first point of call is to bring Tara’s friends together – and all have motives of their own, whereas nobody is the suspect. Mikey Madison (who was excellent as one of the Manson cult in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Jasmin Savoy Brown (also excellent in The Leftovers) and more make up this new cast that do justice to the original group of friends, successfully modernised for an internet age. To its credit Scream manages to keep everything unpredictable right until the revelation hits – you’re left guessing in a way that the franchise is known for: rather than simply just being a “meta” movie, like so many other recent “meta” movies have been lately – Free Guy, Space Jam 2: A New Legacy, it remembers, like its predecessors, that it actually has to be a movie too – and succeeds in doing so. Take away the meta elements and you still have a powerful old-school slasher.

The humour is on point, the more aware of the genre itself and the internet discourse surrounding elevated horror the more you will laugh – it helps being familiar with the predecessors but can be watched on its own, much like the 2018 Halloween. Like David Gordon Green’s reboot it’s a successful revitalisation of the franchise that arguably has the most consistent instalments in any long running horror franchise, and the veteran returning cast aren’t tired of being there and if anything, have gotten even better. It’s David Arquette’s movie – Dewey’s Theme makes a reappearance in a stirring way, and his relationship with Gale gets as much focus as it did in previous entries. Like with Scre4m Sidney Prescott takes a relative backseat to the story as Sam Carpenter is essentially the new protagonist, but seeing Sidney eventually return is as crowd-pleasingly satisfying as you’d expect for fans, and Neve Campbell once again gives it her all.

There is a nice balance of kills, callbacks and conversation – the legacy characters with fresh life feel developed enough for you to care about them all the while with the lingering feeling in your mind that any one of them could be the killer. The film acknowledges its legacy and acknowledges all the weak points it can have – with the Scream franchise existing in-universe in its own right under a different name, Stab, with Gale’s books having been turned into a long-running series that even Rian Johnson, described as the “Knives Out guy”, directed a franchise-breaking entry at one point. These meta touches are not done in a way to turn off those that aren’t quite as aware of the genre and its tropes – but as with David Gordon Green’s Halloween, the more you know can’t hurt.

The shots themselves are composed to match Mark Irwin’s cinematography and it helps that the directors behind Scream have slasher experience – Ready or Not is about as fun as it gets. DOP Brett Jutikewicz evokes memories of Mike Irwin’s Scream work with an eerie sense of familiarity – and the blood and gore is only ramped up in a way that sequel rules demand it. It’s not quite as blood-splattered as previous entries but every kill is chosen carefully – in a way that even throws long-time fans for a loop, finding something new to say without being insulting.

One of the most successful legacy sequels of the current age and owing a lot to Wes Craven's New Nightmare the instigator of it all, whilst calling out its past entry not unlike The Matrix Resurrections (is this the start of a genre where sequel characters are outwardly aware of their previous entries in their respective franchise?) – Scream turns out to be one of the best surprises of recent years – a welcome breath of fresh air.

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