If You Like Scary Movies, You’re Going To Love SCREAM

“Whatever his link is to our past, it’s brought us all back here.”

While the goal is to always be as unbiased as possible when reviewing a movie, a critic’s own personal history with something they’re commenting on will no doubt color their objectivity. This was definitely the case for yours truly when it came to the new Scream movie. My affinity for the series runs about as deep as that of many a die-hard fan’s. The first three films saw me through my high school years with whodunnit plots that felt like Agatha Christie by way of 90s California teens. The genius of original director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson could be found in the mysteries that lent themselves to so many theories, and also brought genuine thrills and hilarity to a genre most people thought was laid to rest.

It’s because of all this that there was a lot to be nervous about when it came to the fifth installment in the game-changing horror series. A new Scream was always in the realm of possibility after the fourth film, but remained questionable. With Craven passing away in 2015 and Williamson opting to only serve as producer, the task has been left to the directing team of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (the duo behind the tremendous Ready or Not) to see if this groundbreaking series had some more screams of its own left.

Ten years after the last series of murders shocked the town of Woodsboro, everyone finds themselves shaken once more following the attack of high school teen Tara (Jenna Ortega), who somehow survives an encounter with the infamous Ghostface. The result brings her estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) back into town and into the killer’s line of sight. As more bodies start to pile up, original survivors Sidney (Neve Campbell), Dewey (David Arquette), and Gale (Courtney Cox) find themselves venturing back into a past that’s ready and waiting for them.

To say that Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are fans of the original series would almost be to insult them. The pair are such meticulous students of the first four films that there was never any doubt during this movie that the audience was watching a Scream sequel. There are so many elements to the previous quartet of movies to be found here that spotting them instantly makes this film more of an interactive experience than one would expect. Simple things such as a note on the fridge, the contents of a phone screen, and the casual mention of a name are all pure candy for the Scream aficionado.

Meanwhile, the musical cues do their part in the callback department in more ways than one. The iconic Nick Cave song makes a welcome appearance, while the score accompanying Dewey’s encounter with the killer is the same one that played in the background of his encounter with Ghostface in Scream 2. Finally, the movie’s third act showdown is perhaps the biggest nod to the series and makes for a thrilling and surprisingly moving end. It’s to the directors’ credit, however, that as fun as these winks are, they never distract from the new story at hand, insteading working organically alongside the new horrific goings-on.

Scream doesn’t just coast along on the throwback factor, although Lord knows it certainly could. The movie carries on the tradition set by the series of commenting on the current state of popular film. While the original was a watershed moment in post-modern filmmaking, Scream 2 served as a lesson in the art of movie sequels. The deservedly maligned third chapter took on trilogies while Scream 4 deconstructed the reboot era. Here, Scream prides itself as the ultimate take on the “requel,” movies that serve as both remakes and prequels. In one scene right out of a university film club, many current film trends (such as toxic fandoms) are put under the microscope as the characters resign themselves to the fact that they will all likely be dead by the movie’s end.

But this is a series that has always cared about its characters first and foremost. The reason we fell in love with Sidney is because we got to know her along with Dewey and Gale. We learned about their flaws and fears, and relished those rare moments when they got to be themselves away from the terror. We are graciously afforded the same luxury this time around with Sam and Tara. We’re pulled in even further when their own personal link to Ghostface and his origins becomes apparent, a tie that feels so natural and brilliant. Seeing this broken sister unit try to heal in the midst of the dark force surrounding them gives the movie a humanity that’s far more effective than any of the (spectacular) kills or Easter eggs could ever be.

Campbell, Arquette, and Cox haven’t missed a beat. These three actors know their characters so well by now that there’s little need to evaluate their performances. When any of them turns up on the screen, sheer joy and delight washes over the many longstanding fans as they gaze over these three horror movie warriors. As for the new additions, Scream definitely has a game cast of newbies who bring their own flavors to the proceedings. As the two leads, Barrera and Ortega embody the kind of heart that this series has always managed to infuse its characters with, and their scenes together give a down-to-earth quality in the face of all the mayhem and fun. Aside from them, Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mikey Madison fill in the best friend roles perfectly, while Jack Quaid is a standout as Sam’s boyfriend.

If there’s one complaint to be found in the midst of everything that was done so right, it’s that we don’t get enough of the original trio this time around. While Sidney, Dewey, and Gale are there, the script brings them into the fold rather late and doesn’t involve them with their new counterparts as much as I would have liked. I’m well aware that that’s mainly my own fandom talking, but there’s no denying that Scream felt different without those three being as much of a presence as we’re used to seeing. But maybe that’s the way it’s meant to go: There are a different set of characters on the screen and a new pair of creative minds at the helm, all of which makes for, forgive me, a killer time. It’s always been difficult to predict what will cause Ghostface to appear again, but if Scream is any indication, it’s going to be worth waiting for that call.

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