Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett (USA). Year of Release: 2022
Woodsboro, 2022. People use their mobile phones to enter chat groups and to watch Netflix films. The music isn’t as good as it used to be (or maybe that’s just me), but it’s good to know that Nick Cave is still around. Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Skeet Ulrich are still out there. A local teen, Tara, gets a nuisance call when she’s home alone. The caller inveigles her into a discussion about her favourite scary movie. Tara is brutally assaulted, but survives the attack.
Tara’s sister Sam left Woodsboro a while ago, and has been estranged from Tara for a while. But she rushes back to protect her sister. She feels obliged to reveal to sis that she has discovered that she is the daughter of the serial killer Billy Loomis who had an affair with their mum. She doesn’t mention that she still has visions of Loomis urging her to kill, especially when she’s off her meds.
Dewey Riley is induced out of alcohol-induced retirement to help track down the killer. He still has a slightly ridiculous moustache, but it is a little fuller than before and is accompanied by a greying beard. Soon, other veterans of the original franchise like Courtney Cox’s Sidney (now married and pushing a pram around) or ambitious tabloid journalist Gale Wethers are encouraged back to town.
I saw this film in a double bill with the original 1996 film. This made a whole lot of sense – and not just because it reminded us who these characters were who were making their comeback. Comparing to the original helped us see what this version got right – as much as possible, it didn’t make the same jokes as before, but updated its commentary to modern horror.
The 1996 version of Scream was a reaction to the fag end of the slasher movie, a genre which had become tired and lent itself very easily to parody. In this version, the protagonists reference The Babadook and It Follows. They are aware that horror can be cerebral and make important psychological comments. They are also aware that old franchises like Halloween can be invigorated by inviting old stars like Jamie Lee Curtis to get back on the boat. They can also give new films exactly the same name as the original (who could think of doing something like that?)
This version also avoids some of the pitfalls of the original. The main actors actually look like teenagers, rather than 20-something actors who are wearing clothes which are way too young for them. They are much more multi-cultural, have women who actually speak, and a pair of them are even lesbians. This does not feel forced, more an acknowledgement that current films make more of an effort to reflect what our society is really like (they are still all rich and posh, mind).
One place where this version exceeds the original is in the soundtrack. In the 1996 version, we often heard portentous music shortly before a leading character bumped into someone in a minor role – a distraction. This one takes it one step version. Someone is looking in a fridge. The music tells us that they are about to meet a bloody end. The fridge door is pulled back to reveal … nothing. Repeat to fade. It is both very frustrating and very effective.
For all this, it shouldn’t work. The 1996 version was successful exactly because no-one had made this sort of film before. The sequels were increasingly irrelevant – I don’t think I even bothered with Scream 4. This film has taken a respectful pause (the last Scream was released in 2011), and tries something new. It is – as one of the characters remarks – a Requel, a mixture between a reboot and a prequel.
As before, we are told of certain rules to which a Requel must adhere. The important characters must be somehow related to people in the original. Old characters are allowed to return, but they must hold supporting roles. All present and correct. The new Scream also breaks ranks with convention by announcing the killers two-thirds of the way through.
This is not a perfect film. Like the original, there are too many scenes of the villain explaining the plot to his victims rather than just getting on with it and killing them. Many characters seem indestructible, no matter how many time he is stabbed and shot, and there are a few occasions where the chance of snatching the mask off the ghostface killer is ignored for no obvious reason. But it would be pedantic to say that these occasions mean that the film does not work.
Scream just about gets away with reproducing the same old jokes, but I hope that it is the last sequel. The joke can only go so far. As someone comments on “Stab”, the made up film based on the events in Woodboro: “the whole franchise goes off the rails in part 5”. Part 5 of Scream thankfully survived, but you’d be pushing it to expect any more.
Summary: it’s good, but the inevitable next one probably won’t be.