While landlines for Ghostface to call are largely a thing of the past, the same cannot--and should not--be said of the Scream films. The fifth entry in the franchise, titled Scream rather than Scream 5, arrives in theaters on Friday, and it has some gigantic shoes to fill.
This is the first Scream movie that is not directed by Wes Craven, who died in 2014. It's also only the second in the series that isn't written by Kevin Williamson, after the wildly underrated Scream 3. With a new creative team in place that consists of directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (2019's Ready or Not), as well as one of that movie's writers, though, the latest Scream movie has the chance to once again reinvent the franchise and set it up for the future.
And, thankfully, that's exactly what this movie does. While this is the first Scream without the involvement of Craven, it fits well with the other installments in the franchise, continuing the streak of very good movies. Seriously, there isn't a bad Scream film, which is nearly unprecedented when it comes to a horror franchise.
This latest outing is set years after the events of Scream 4 and, not surprisingly, Ghostface is back, slicing and dicing his way through Woodsboro once more. And yet again, Sidney (Never Campbell), Gale (Courteney Cox), and Dewey (David Arquette) have to show a new group of would-be victims the ins and outs of surviving a maniacal killer, while everyone tries to figure out who is under the mask.
Then there's the franchise-within-a-franchise, Stab. It seems the fanaticism has largely died off after a terrible "requel" (reboot sequel) that more or less tosses out everything they loved about Stab in the first place. Therein lies what makes Scream so clever--and helps it fit in with the rest of the franchise. Each Scream movie has something to say about the culture it's released in and how it's being translated to movies. Whether it's the introduction of the meta slasher in the first, the obsession with Hollywood of Scream 3, or even the rise of smartphones and technology of the fourth film, these movies always have their fingers on the pulse of modern culture.
With the new Scream, you have a film examining what it means to revisit an iconic franchise decades after it debuted for a "requel" of its own. To that end, it uses the same naming convention as 2018's Halloween, while also pointing out the missteps many franchises have made, including picking and choosing what lore to follow and not treating the character you've grown to love with a proper level of respect. And as it points these things out, Scream manages to easily sidestep practically every single one.
By now, it's been 25 years since the original Scream film, which threw Sidney's life into a blender and has left her to repeatedly pick up the pieces. Now, as her, Gale, and Dewey are the elder statesmen of dealing with this menace, they're thrust into the role of mentor, helping the next generation to navigate it. As Sidney says in one of Scream's trailers to a new character, this is their life now.
Whether that means this is the last stand for the original trio or not, it feels as though Scream is setting up viewers for further installments with these new characters, should any of them manage to survive. And that would be more than welcome as the new additions to the franchise carry themselves well--and some of them carry interesting connections to the franchise.
At the center of the movie are Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega), estranged sisters and Ghostface's newest playthings. At the start of the movie, Sam is far from Woodsboro in Modesto, California. Naturally, once the attacks start, she comes home to protect her little sisters, setting off the events of the film. Barerra and Ortega shine in their roles. Their sibling chemistry is believable and the strained relationship between them is heartbreaking. When you add Richie (Jack Quaid), Sam's lovable but completely unprepared-for-Ghostface boyfriend, to the mix, it makes for an entertaining trio.
Then there's Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding, who play twins Mindy and Chad Meeks-Martin, the niece and nephew of Jamie Kennedy's Randy who carry on his legacy as very nerdy movie fans. The big difference is that now, in 2022, movie nerds are cool. These two also bring a lot of the movie's humor to the forefront. Their dynamic together is fun to watch and Brown especially is ridiculously funny throughout the movie.
Dylan Minette appears as Wes Hicks, the son of Scream 4's Deputy Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton). This is key to something Scream does well, which is humanizing Judy. In Scream 4, she was more or less a punchline for Gale to mock. Now, though, she's a well-rounded character that the movie makes you care about.
The film also features Sonia Ben Ammar (Liv) and Mikey Madison (Amber) as members of Tara's friend group. While they have no connection to the previous films that we know of, they also find themselves at the mercy of Ghostface. Truly, these are the only two of the "main" characters who could have used a bit more depth. Both actresses are engaging in the film, but they both feel a bit like the B team, compared to how much we get to know the rest of the characters.
And, of course, we can't talk about this movie without discussing Sidney, Dewey, and Gale. The three actors that have appeared in every single Scream movie since the beginning are as great as ever. And what's so exciting about seeing them in this film is how they've changed since the last film. They're all at completely different places in their lives than when we last saw them in Scream 4, and it makes for some wonderful and also some heartbreaking moments when they're on screen together. These three people are bound by a shared trauma they've faced repeatedly throughout their lives, and Scream is a haunting reminder of what it is that manages to reunite their little family time and time again.
Ultimately, Scream plays like a love letter to not only Wes Craven, but also the sort of meta-drenched horror he loved to play in--and the horror genre as a whole. What's different is the appreciation for horror has evolved as modern blockbuster cinema has. Much like the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, Scream is stuffed with Easter eggs and references. The big difference here is that viewers are never hit over the head with them. Whether it's character names, street names, or references to past events, the movie is a field day for eagle-eyed horror fans, while making sure it never feels like any of these references are distracting from the story being told.
The kills remain brutal, and sometimes more so than the previous movies, the humor remains self-referential and sarcastic, and the tension never eases up from the opening minutes through the violent climax. This is a Scream movie, through and through. Yet still, it never feels unoriginal. Directors Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett, as well as writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, have delivered a movie more than worthy of the Scream franchise. And while it might be hard to figure out where in the rankings it stands, it's certainly a contender for one of the very best entries in the series.