By Jonathan Williams
“What’s your favorite scary movie?” The iconic series is back, and this time it is taking on the “re-quel”, a term that refers to a franchise film that is both a sequel and a prequel. Thanks to directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett the filmmakers behind 2019’s fun and memorable 'Ready or Not', SCREAM contains all the fun and self-awareness that fans have come to expect from the series.
PLEASE NOTE: The following summary contains SOME SPOILERS but does not reveal the final twist ending.
After Tara Carpenter (played by Jenna Ortega) survives a violent attack by a new Ghostface killer, her estranged sister Sam (played by Melissa Barrera) quickly returns to Woodsboro with boyfriend Richie (played by Jack Quaid) coming along for the ride. Upon Sam’s arrival, she finds her sister in the hospital surrounded by her friends, many of whom are related to 'Scream's' legacy characters in one way or another.
Shortly upon her return to Woodsboro, Sam survives an attack by Ghostface who threatens to reveal a dark secret plaguing her consciousness, Sam is the daughter of Billy Loomis – one of the original killers of the first film. Shaken by her encounter with Ghostface, Sam quickly reveals the secret to her sister, with whom they share the same mother, but only Sam is related to Loomis.
Desperate to hunt down Ghostface as quickly as possible, Sam hunts down disgraced and retired Sheriff Dewey Riley, who once again has found himself separated from Gale Weathers, living drunk and alone in a trailer on the outskirts of Woodsboro. Dewey reluctantly joins Sam on her hunt for the killer, and in doing so reunites with Sidney and Gale who can’t help but return to Woodsboro to put an end to Ghostface’s resounding legacy.
It has long been lamented that cell phones “killed” the modern horror movie. Films bend over backward to find reasons for characters to not use their cellphones. Whether it’s low battery, no service, or they mistakenly left it behind, it has consistently posed a problem for modern-day storytellers. However, this is a SCREAM movie where a ringing phone is just as iconic as Jason’s hockey mask or Freddy Kruger’s glove. So, where most horror movies try to avoid having characters use their phones SCREAM embraces the era of smartphones in new and inventive ways. From Tara’s opening battle with Ghostface using the remote security feature on her phone to lock and unlock the doors to a later encounter where one of the characters is lured out by Ghostface when his girlfriend shares her location and beckons him to use it to find her in a deadly game of hide and go seek.
Two of the best additions to the cast are Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding as Mindy Meeks-Martin and Chad Meeks-Martin, the loveable niece and nephew of 'Scream’s' (1996) iconic movie nerd Randy, memorably played by Jamie Kennedy in 'Scream' (1996) & 'Scream 2.' Both characters bring the same iconic movie nerd energy to the rules of how to survive a horror movie, but unlike their uncle Randy, they don’t just list off the rules, we see their characters actively try to take their own advice which leads to some fun and memorable moments.
While this iteration of SCREAM is a fun and welcome addition to the iconic franchise, its biggest issue is that the film never seems to move beyond itself. Unlike its predecessors, the only horror movie SCREAM seems to take joy in referencing is itself. Sure, other movies are mentioned in passing, but the movie fails to elevate or reference new and existing horror tropes in the same ways that the original 'Scream' (1996-2000) trilogy had so expertly done.
This film is filled with so many references to itself and to the “re-quel” genre of films that it forgets the other thing that once made the original great – its social commentary. The film misses ample opportunities to make a commentary on our current reliance on phones and social media that in the end it just feels like another carbon copy. While the film does have some clever sequences that include smartphones it doesn’t truly go beyond just a few sequences that still fail to resonate on a deeper satirical level.
Ultimately, the film winds up feeling more like a combined copy of the original 'Scream' (1996) and 'Scream 4', refusing to truly take any risks or provide fans of the franchise with anything new or innovative. Even the rehash of the original’s iconic opening with a girl home alone speaking with a stranger on her phone feels tired and overdone. After all, let’s not forget one of the other great things about the original trilogy is that all three movies had different iconic opening sequences, but now it seems like every iteration of the franchise must have the same opening home alone sequence…Even 'Scream 4' made fun of that issue.
While there is plenty of fun to be had in this new iteration of SCREAM, the film ultimately feels hollow. The depth and satire of this incredible franchise seem to have gone out the window in that it has become the thing it always seemed to take joy in making fun of, a parody of itself.
SCREAM fails to add any youth or excitement to the series because, like its legacy characters, it too is stuck in the dwindling small town of Woodsboro. Where the film could be making fun of Gen Z horror fans, commenting on social media, and a world glued to their phones, it instead takes the easy way out and only focuses on the “re-quel” rules by adhering to them rather than subverting them.
Regardless of its flaws, SCREAM fans of all sorts will find something to love in this return to Woodsboro, but just like most small towns, you’ll find that nothing surprising has truly changed.
SCREAM is now playing only in the theaters.