This stylishly directed “requel” trickily rakes over the grave of the original Scream films, but please, no more!
Not long after Wes Craven went all postmodern on a franchise of his own in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, the director gave a similar self-referential treatment to John Carpenter’s Halloween and its many ’80s imitators with Scream. Along the way he used the power of pastiche to revive not only the slasher, but also an entire horror genre grown moribund in the early nineties.
Where Scream looked back to slashers past, its sequels increasingly just looked back to Scream, circling ever inwards to rapidly diminishing, self-involved returns while proving very reluctant to kill their darlings. In 2011, 11 years after his trilogy ended, Craven returned for a fourth, but despite introducing the next generation, could not quite bring himself to let his surviving company of ‘legacy’ characters (once themselves young adults, now just adults) be overtaken or outdone by the new blood that this franchise very much needed. And so it played like a reactionary victory for the olds in a franchise that had once felt so fresh.
Another 11 years later, and with Craven himself now dead, the helm has been handed to directors Matt Bettinelli Olpin and Tyler Gillett for this latest sequel – entitled just Scream without the 5, much as the ‘pretentious’ eighth entry in the Stab franchise-within-a-franchise, loosely based on the ‘real’ Woodsboro killings, is just called Stab.
Yet the spirit of Craven – and Carpenter – still very much haunts this new instalment. “Is Wes still bugging you?” reads a text that Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) receives from her friend Amber (Mikey Madison) in the film’s opening sequence – and even if the text will turn out to be specifically referencing the girls’ schoolfriend Wes Hicks (Dylan Minnette), the son of Woodsboro’s deputy-turned-sheriff Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton), his name, and Tara’s surname, point to a different layer of legacy.
Tara is attacked by a killer in a Ghostface mask who is recreating (and updating) the famous opening scene from the first Scream (and the first Stab). Yet Tara’s survival and subsequent hospitalisation will draw her estranged older sister Sam (Melissa Barbara) back to Woodsboro from Modesto, with boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) in tow. As the bodies pile up, old Scream survivors Sidney (Neve Campbell), Gale (Courtney Cox) and Dewey (David Arquette) will also return once again to this ever cold but ever warming case.
They race to unmask the killer – or killers – among themselves or Tara’s super-smart friends (Mason Gooding, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sonia Ben Ammar, all excellent), in a small town where everyone has inherited an incestuous connection to the original slaughter.
“Where Craven seemed increasingly to be phoning it in, this is the most stylishly directed of all the Scream sequels.”
Meanwhile someone is self-consciously trying to restage, reboot and renew Woodsboro’s nineties massacre and to return things to ground zero – someone who respects the franchise’s tradition of meta-slashing antics,