Are you familiar with the term re-quel? As one character explains in this highly educational meta-movie, it’s a project that deserves a reboot (full of new faces) and a sequel (filled with characters we know and love). The finest re-quels offer a nostalgia with an ultra-post-modern kick. And – a small but important detail – they put money in the bank.
Unlike the utterly wonderful and ground-breaking Scream that released in 1996, the fifth installment of the horror franchise is going where others have gone (see 2018’s Halloween and last year’s Candyman). But directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillette, taking over from legend Wes Craven, have repeatedly admitted that what they’re doing isn’t entirely original. And the ennui-laden mood is what makes you lean forward in your seat. The creative team is all saying: Shout out. What is yawning difference?
The gags are mostly terrifying, as you’d expect from writer Guy Busick, who worked on Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillette’s funny, brutal class-aware blood bath ready or not. The opening scene of the new film features a West Coast teen, Tara (Jenna Ortega; excellent), being taunted by a horror-movie-obsessed maniac who seems to be her number in every sense. But then she surprises the killer aka Ghostface by saying that her favorite creepy classic is the Australian indie hit The Babadook. And that she also likes It Follows, Hereditary, and The Witch. She describes these films as “elevated horror” (a real phrase), laying the groundwork for a culture war that would be fought with knives and guns.
More risk, it’s true, could have been taken. There are no jokes about Harvey Weinstein, all the more disappointing because Scream 3 (which, like all Scream movies to date, was produced by Weinstein’s Miramax) sparked a reference to an abusive Hollywood producer who needed to wake up. Was. Maybe a whole set of vicious (and more or less outrageous) wits will turn into a director’s cut-off line.
Essentially, though, Scream is smart. The only drawback is a plot, or a heroine, that is capable of making us cry.
It’s hard to care for the central character Sam (Tara’s sister). Partly that’s because his backstory is generic (he’s flawed and hurt by a mystery involving his libido. She old theme). Partly that’s because she’s played by In the Heights Melissa Barrera with zero charisma. Whether being hunted by Ghostface, munching bullets, feuding with Tara’s tight-knit group of friends, or Woodsboro icons Sidney Prescott (Nave Campbell), Davey Riley (David Arquette) and Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox) Meet, Barrera’s Sam goes from zero to zero. A step should be sent to the actors, when they are unable to express the emotion. Naughty step.
Someone like Ana de Armas would have made a much quicker lead. There’s actually a quip about Rian Johnson’s clever whodunit, Knives Out (which was dominated by de Armas’ multi-layered twist). wrong move; It reminds us what we are missing.
The problem is compounded by Sydney, Davy and Gayle being around. Campbell and Arquette are extremely soulful actors and Cox is perfect in their roles (as a frazzled media star, with Ozzy Osbourne hair and makeup, Gail is pretty believable). I wanted more than all three actors. When the characters and actors are so similar, it is painful to see them lying on the margins.
We need to talk about Sam. That won’t stop Scream from making mint, but left unchecked, she’ll be the death of the franchise.