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Review: ‘Scream’ re-energizes the franchise with meta, modern slasher fun

If you are a horror fan, and especially a fan of the franchise, the latest “Scream” continues Wes Craven’s legacy with a story that is just as clever and suspenseful as its predecessors. (Paramount Pictures)

After nearly an 11-year gap, the newest installment in the “Scream” franchise is upon us. In that span a lot has changed – from the on-again-off-again uncertainty surrounding the series to the passing of franchise creator, director and horror icon Wes Craven, and the toppling of The Weinstein Company. Through it all, the Ghostface Killer survived.

With Spyglass Media Group now at the helm and a decade having passed since we were last in Woodsboro running from a serial killer, the legacy of Craven’s beloved horror-comedy franchise can continue – and the fifth film does so brilliantly.

Jenna Ortega as Tara in “Scream.” (Paramount Pictures)

Longtime series writer Kevin Williamson, the scribe behind the original, second and fourth films, is back as an executive producer, and while Craven may not be around any more, his spirit is felt throughout the film. Legacy cast members Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette all return, as well as a whole host of new victims in Woodsboro.

The story takes place 25 years after the original series of murders in Woodsboro, first seen in 1996’s “Scream.” Now, a new Ghostface has emerged, and original badass Sidney Prescott (Campbell) must begrudgingly return to her hometown and uncover the truth. The copycat killer kicks things off in familiar fashion, calling an unsuspecting teenager, Tara (Jenna Ortega), and attacking her while she’s home alone – only this time around, the girl survives. Tara’s sister, Sam (Melissa Barrera) and her boyfriend, Richie (Jack Quiad), return home to Woodsboro and team up with the veterans in an attempt to unmask the killer. Just like the first time, Tara’s friend group is filled with suspects, and things get even trickier knowing everyone has some sort of connection to the original attacks.

Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott and Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers “Scream.” (Paramount Pictures)

Directing duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have been making horror films for a long time, but in 2019 they went mainstream with the cult hit “Ready or Not,” transforming Samara Weaving into a scream queen, before being tapped to carry the torch of one of the genre’s best slasher franchises. Their modern horror sensibilities and ability to lean into tropes without ever feeling corny are a perfect complement to the milieu created by Craven and Williamson. 

There has always been a meta, self-aware tone in the “Scream” franchise, from the original, using “the rules” of horror films to create something brand new, to the latest installment taking stabs at reboot and sequel culture. Sometimes it’s the entire plot, and sometimes it’s fun exposition – but it is always there and it has become a staple of what fans expect. Olpin and Gillett inject their own flavor, leading to an edgy, beautifully-shot film with brutal kills and exciting filmmaking.

Ghostface in “Scream.” (Paramount Pictures)

This sequel brings into focus fan expectations and trepidations, calling out toxic fandom in true meta fashion. As toxic fandom and entitled critics have grabbed hold of some of entertainment’s biggest franchises, from “Star Wars” to “Justice League” and beyond, this is exactly the direction a worthy “Scream” sequel should take. It’s the perfect blend of making fun of itself and justifying its existence, before ultimately exceeding fan expectations. While the “Scream” films may be too self-referential and silly for some, they are – for the most part – very well-made horror films. It’s the fine line between horror and schlock that this franchise treads that makes it so compelling and rich. 

If you are a horror fan, and especially a fan of the franchise, the latest “Scream” continues Wes Craven’s legacy with a story that is just as clever and suspenseful as its predecessors, while also paving the way for the next generation.

Star Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Scream” is now playing in theaters.

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Joel Winstead View All

Film critic and member of the NCFCA and SEFCA

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