Ghostface (voiced by Roger L. Jackson) has been terrorizing Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) for the past twenty-five years. The faces behind the mask might change, but as long as there’s demand for Scream-quels, this iconic “Final Girl’s” suffering will never cease. With the fifth installment of Wes Craven’s slasher franchise, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett opt for a hybrid reset that shifts the burden of Woodsboro’s killer mascot onto a new set of unfortunate fools. However, by no means has the past been let go. If anything, this Scream is more reverent than replicant.
The newest killing spree in Woodsboro goes back to basics, starting with an intro that reactivates all of those internal screams you thought were permanently silenced back in 1996. Writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick use story originator Kevin Williamson’s foundational scare tactics as a blueprint to expand upon. Unlike the previous forgotten entry, Scream does not operate as a parody of itself. Instead, it leans into the series’ ludicrous nature with unapologetic abandon, never forgetting that fear and laughter are most effective when combined.
The surviving trio of Sidney, Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), and Dewey (David Arquette) naturally make their expected returns, though Arquette’s Dewey is allotted the best comeback material. Whether or not this is because of the script’s notable absence of female input, it’s hard not to feel like some key figures are shortchanged because their presence alone is perceived as sufficient. Regardless, the old Scooby Gang’s reunion is pleasant without feeling like a takeover, as this is very much a new generation’s nightmare to deal with.
Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) is Woodsboro’s latest reluctant heroine grappling with heavy trauma. Shameful secrets have kept her away from the cursed town for the last five years, thereby estranging herself from her younger sister Tara (Jenna Ortega). When Ghostface reappears, Sam is whisked back to the stomping grounds she swore to never set foot in again. Sound familiar? The narrative beats might look similar, but the kills strike from all-new and unexpected directions.
Tagging along with Sam is her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid), who insists on accompanying her for protection. He may not know what he’s in for, as he confesses to having never watched a single entry in the Stab movie franchise during the road trip down. As viewers may recall, Hollywood adapted Gale’s slew of bestselling crime novels of the initial Woodsboro killings into blockbuster entertainment. Per the course of pop culture consumerism, the more sequels released, the more toxic the fandom became. The mystery of these latest attacks is twofold: is the perpetrator a psychotic fan with too much time on their pathetic hands, or is there a genuine personal connection to the ’96 stabbing spree? Only time and an uptick in body counts will tell.
Of course, Tara has an untrustworthy group of friends who are all suspicious in their own right. Most memorable is Jasmin Savoy Brown as Mindy Meeks-Martin, who provides insightful commentary that speaks to some sequels’ successes versus others’ failures. If we take her assessment to heart, this Scream does “re-quels” proud. Sadly, the Scream saga is still insistent on the original reigning supreme over the rest. We forget that without Scream 2, the series would have a hard time distinguishing itself from other campy horror franchises. Its self-awareness and astute observations of zeitgeist trends separate it from its genre peers.
With that being said, some moments make you wonder if this installment overestimates its viewers’ knowledge of “elevated horror,” described here as the tonal antithesis of Scream. Heck, many moviegoers who don’t frequent Twitter or Reddit have probably never heard of the term. All they know is that each Scream sequel provides an opportunity to once again celebrate this horror franchise for what it does better than the rest: make audiences feel included in the joke while still terrifying them to no end. Ghostface is a frightening villain because he or she is a continuous reminder of what was, what will never die, and what seemingly trustworthy face will stab you when not looking.
Scream proves that the best sequels offer both satisfying resolution and excitement for potential continuation. Although the series seems most comfortable reveling in farce, I believe it is far more intelligent than it credits itself. The fact that more franchises now mimic Scream’s meta ambitiousness surely means its legacy goes deeper than just iconic lines of dialogue and a notorious ghoul mask. At this point, if watching a Scream movie feels like being stuck in a continuous loop, then you should never have picked up the phone in the first place. Landlines may be out, but scary movies are forever.