I really enjoyed the first ‘Scream’ movie when it came out in 1996. I remember watching it in the theater and was fascinated by how self-referential the film was (I’m not sure but we didn’t use the word meta back then) and how it criticized and praised slasher films and managed to provide surprises all throughout. I don’t remember much from the second and I never got to see the third and fourth.
Considering that my attachment to the franchise isn’t deep, I was able to follow the story of the latest sequel (the fifth!), Scream, and enjoyed seeing Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and David Arquette return as their characters. In fact, I enjoyed their return more than I did the new characters and they are not the real protagonists of the story.
In this latest installment, the story follows two sisters, Samantha and Tara, who live in Woodsboro where the events of the very first movie transpired. Tara is attacked at home by Ghostface and Samantha must return to her hometown and face the dark secret that has led her to leave in the first place.
In this reality, the story of the movie had been turned into a movie called Stab and everyone is aware of “the rules of surviving a slasher film,” and what is surprising is the amount of indifference the students of Woodsboro have with the news of another attack. Yes, the circle of friends that we are introduced to is affected by Tara’s attack but they are so desensitized by the idea of Ghostface returning to their town. They talk about it openly and discuss who would probably get attacked next. They walk around carrying tasers and protection. This is a town whose youth population is completely used to violence.
In fact, it feels oddly reminiscent of how present-day Americans are so used to school shootings. They live normal lives and when a school shooting happens, they know exactly what to do. Is this a commentary on the violence happening in America today and it’s no longer a big thing among the youth? I can’t help but point that out.
As Samantha investigates and tries to discover who attacked her sister, we are once again brought into the world of the franchise and people openly talk about their lives as if it were a slasher film because, after all, a killer is on the loose. There is a tongue-in-cheek aspect to this that is taken to its furthest extreme. It makes the film funny, funnier than I expected it to be, and then the film is not only making fun of itself (and slasher movies and franchises) but it started to unravel how films these days are so reactive to the audience.
The relationship of movies and their fans is given center stage in the discussions here and it shows how much of the audience has become savvy of the outer workings of the film industry that some films are more focused on pleasing the fans than they are on committing to a story.
And while this new installment of ‘Scream’ is working hard to hit the right notes balancing fresh scares with old themes, it falls into the trap of not hitting all the story beats. Melissa Barrera, who plays Samantha, doesn’t have the flair of holding your attention. Other characters are more interesting than our lead: Jenna Ortega’s Tara is so promising while Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mikey Madison are so interesting to watch as part of Tara’s group of friends, who are all possible victims or perpetrators. As the film tries to juggle the legacy of the franchise and bring something new to the series, its capacity to make us attached to these new characters doesn’t quite stick.
So when Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and David Arquette arrive to reprise their roles, that’s when the electricity returns for the film. The three have a complete understanding of this world and this particular genre so their presence creates electricity for the film. Unfortunately, it’s not their movie. I wish they had more screen time.
And so while ‘Scream’ is fun because it takes itself lightly, reveling in the meta-discussions of slasher films in a slasher film, it’s never actually quite scary because we don’t really care that much yet about the new characters. There’s an inventive sequence filled with fake jump scares that’s just an absolute hoot to watch but other than these small moments of brilliance, the film doesn’t quite explode as it could.
But considering foreign reviews have called this the best installment out of all the sequels, then I’m glad I didn’t see the third or the fourth. I had fun but it’s not going to stick with me the way the first movie did. Interestingly enough, that’s actually even mentioned in the film.
Scream is holding sneak previews in select cinemas on February 1 and will release nationwide on February 2, 2022.