Tara Carpenter, a young potential murder victim in the new Scream, doesn’t much care for the Stab franchise, the film’s in-universe analogue for itself. She prefers “elevated horror” – The Babadook, The Witch, It Follows, Hereditary. The first Scream notwithstanding – the 1996 “meta slasher-whodunnit” still holds up brilliantly – I tend to agree, and this fifth instalment does nothing to change my mind.
Coming more than a decade after Scream 4, this is the first in the series without Wes Craven at the helm (he died in 2015), with young horror duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (V/H/S, Southbound, Ready or Not) now on directing duty.
After the reaction to Scream 4, which veered from tepid to hostile, there was hope the pair could breathe fresh life into the franchise but they give the impression of being handed an incredibly expensive piece of glassware that they absolutely cannot afford to drop.
Not quite a sequel, not quite a reboot, Scream finds itself recreating the first movie – sometimes scene-for-scene – while juggling a plot that’s become bloated through repetition. New faces are introduced and “heritage characters” return, but they all shuffle predictably through the motions.
Nobody wants Scream to become a meditation on parenthood or puberty or grief or depression like those “elevated” horror movies, but it doesn’t have much to say about anything. Sure, there’s some astute criticism of toxic fandom and a meta-commentary about the woes of adding to an aging horror franchise, but simply stating aloud your shortcomings does not overcome them.
The plot is a distorted carnival mirror version of the first film: a girl picks up her phone and has an increasingly shady chat with a gravelly-voiced stranger who likes to play games. Stab, stab, stab. Then we’re introduced to a group of high-schoolers-cum-suspects who must work out who amongst them is the killer before he/she/they strike again. Stab, stab, stab, stab, stab, reveal.
Everything from locations to the soundtrack are reheated and reused (Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand still raises the hairs on your neck), and even the set pieces feel rote: Ghostface appears behind someone, a messy struggle ensues, someone is stabbed, blood is wiped theatrically from a blade.
Scream isn’t a bad movie, it just isn’t a good one either. It’s base-level popcorn horror with a hefty chaser of nostalgia for those who remember the first time. Worryingly for the future of the franchise, even new blood behind the camera can’t stem the diminishing returns that have stalked this franchise since its genre-defining debut.