Scream – Film Review
by David Turpin
Directors – Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Writers – James Vanderbilt(screenplay), Guy Busick(screenplay), Kevin Williamson(characters created by)
Stars – Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette
In 2018, the Halloween series was successfully relaunched with an eponymous entry that functioned, loosely, as both sequel and remake. David Gordon Green’s film was disappointingly ordinary, but it gained a nostalgic charge from the presence of original star Jamie Lee Curtis, and raked in the coins at the global box office. It was inevitable that other horror ‘properties’, once thought dead, would rise again. And so it is with Scream, a sequel-cum-remake of Wes Craven’s popular 1996 ‘meta-slasher’ film that seeks to update both its sharp suspense and its much-ballyhooed ‘self-awareness’ for 2022 audiences.
The plot, insofar as it can be revealed without spoiling anything, involves copycat crimes taking place in the American suburb of Woodsboro, a quarter-century after those of the original film. As a rather too populous group of teenagers negotiate the ins and outs of being stalked and slashed – most seeming to regard it as a moderate irritant – various characters from the original film are gradually drawn into the fray. It all ends up back where it started, in a fashion that viewers who recall the first film – but aren’t necessarily slavishly devoted to it – may find paradoxically both clever and a little dull.
To start with the good news, the series’ reluctance to whittle down its main cast – while making earlier sequels feel rather low-stakes – turns out to have been its greatest advantage. Original stars Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette all make the most of their relatively limited screen-time. Arquette fares best – managing to make something almost touching out of dim-witted, lovelorn Deputy Dewey. Cox is game but gets little to do (though her red pant-suit is the film’s most striking visual by some distance). Campbell can surely be forgiven for striding through the thing like another day at the office, ever-flinty demeanour lending some blunt lines a charge they would not otherwise possess.
Unfortunately, the new cast members are a bit of a washout. Melissa Barrera, particularly, is saddled with a dull heroine role, and several long expositional speeches that invoke an emotional connection it is difficult to imagine many having with this material. Furthermore – while, as is customary in the genre – these ‘teens’ all look to be in their mid-twenties, it’s still difficult to square their youth with the central gimmick of the series. The heroes, villains and victims of the originals belonged to a mid-90s film culture, in which it was believable that all would be conversant in the same relatively limited pool of films, simply because that was what was available at the video library. That culture doesn’t exist anymore, and it’s rather simplistic to imagine that young people continue to experience, prosecute and interpret their viewing impulses in the same way their parents did, only via streaming rather than VHS rental.
Elsewhere, the integration of new technology is oddly furtive. If a highfalutin auteur like Olivier Assayas was able to wring an absolutely fiendish suspense set-piece out of patchy mobile coverage in Personal Shopper (2016), the makers of the fifth Scream film really have no excuse for their ongoing dependence on the landline.
The central problem of the film, oddly, is its determination to surprise. A good stalk and slash film relies more on precision than on narrative surprise. There’s nothing particularly surprising in John Carpenter’s original Halloween, for instance, but it is put together with such ruthless craftsmanship that it’s breathlessly exciting despite its predictability. This Scream works strenuously to wrong-foot, second-guess, and double-think us, but the actual suspense set-pieces are brief, lack spatial clarity, and tend to be extremely bloody without being particularly thrilling.
We all remember the shower scene in Psycho, the writhing body dragged across a ceiling in A Nightmare on Elm Street, maybe even Rose McGowan in the garage door in the first Scream. This instalment has nothing to compare – and all the self-awareness in the world can’t make up for that.