Friday, July 19, 2024

Scream and Scream again

Spoiler alert: If you have not seen the new Scream movie and plan to, do not read further.

Scream, also referred to as Scream (2022), Scream 5, and 5cream is currently number one at the domestic box office, earning nearly 35 million during its opening weekend. Horror fans have long awaited the fifth installment of the blockbuster franchise spearheaded by the late director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson in 1996. The last entry came out in 2011 with lackluster box office receipts and reviews which stopped the franchise dead in its tracks, until now. 

Spurred forth by their own reverence and love for the franchise, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett fought hard to get this movie onto the big screen and in doing so tapped into the nostalgic wave currently gripping the horror community. Just in the past year we have seen the continuations of the beloved Halloween, Chucky and Candyman franchises and are currently looking forward to new chapters in the Hellraiser, Evil Dead and Texas Chainsaw storylines. The timing for a new Scream was perfect and the famously self-aware series does not disappoint by explicitly commenting on the fans’ desire for “requels”. These are films that both reboot franchises with fresh stories and characters while simultaneously continuing existing stories centered on legacy characters from the original series. Deliciously meta and on point as always.

So, did Scream (2022) deliver as a “requel”? Well, for this viewer it did and it didn’t. Before I dive in, let me say, I liked the movie a lot. I went to see it twice; I pre-ordered the blu-ray and I am anxiously anticipating a part 6 to the series. It just didn’t live up to the expectations I had once I started reading the reviews. I will never forget the feeling I had leaving the movie theater after seeing the original Scream in early 1997. I was 15 years old at the time, and I left that movie exhilarated and completely floored by what I’d just seen. Now at 40 years old, I knew I wouldn’t have the same feeling after seeing this one, merely as a function of age. I did, however, expect to feel something similar, and I’m sorry to say I just did not. I had a good time with the movie, but I wasn’t blown away with it as many are claiming to have been. I have spent the last week thinking about why this was, and I think I understand it now.

Neve Campbell (Sidney Prescott), Courteney Cox (Gale Weathers)

By far my biggest gripe is that this is not a continuation of Sidney’s story in any real way. Despite all the trailers and promotional images centering on Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott; I feel her character is severely under-utilized in the movie. Listen, I realize this film is meant to set the stage for a new cast and a new final girl to lead the series forward; but it could have been done with more finesse. Take the Halloween franchise, for example. The new trilogy of Halloween films are still Laurie Strode’s story. I’m speculating here, but it seems clear to me that her granddaughter Alyson is going to be lead protagonist against Michael Myers after this year’s Halloween Ends and I have come to peace with that. The reason for this being that Alyson was presented as a new, but not central character, in Halloween (2018). She was a supporting character to Laurie Strode. In Halloween Kills, Laurie is sidelined to a hospital bed, and so Alyson had to do more of the heavy lifting. Given our familiarity with her from the prior film and the presence of Laurie Strode in the movie we went along with it. Coming out the other side of Halloween Kills, I’m rooting for Alyson, and she is certainly closer to Laurie Strode in terms of the stakes she has in defeating Michael in the next film. Michael, after all, has now killed both of her parents and has tried multiple times to kill her and her grandmother. This is in stark contrast of what was done in the new Scream where we are simply presented with and are expected to champion Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), Sidney’s apparent replacement.

Tara (Jenna Ortega)

Taking out any loyalty to Sidney, Sam is not written in a way that really encourages the audience to root for her. Ghostface attacks her sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) in the opening sequence and then proceeds to kill Tara’s circle of friends one by one. We later find out Tara’s attack was meant to lure Sam back to Woodsboro so she could ultimately be framed for the murders as the illegitimate and deranged daughter of Billy Loomis (one of the killers from the first film). With the multiple attacks against Tara and the murders taking place within her friend group, I found myself rooting for Tara, not Sam. Sam spends most of the film lamenting the past and who her father was while simultaneously trying to protect her sister. Its just not what you’d expect for the final girl, and it does not appear to me that the character was written that way to purposely circumvent existing tropes.

The tone of the movie is also much darker than previous installments. Normally I’d be okay with that, but Scream is known for its razor-sharp wit. The only levity in the film is delivered by Richie (Jack Quaid) and Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown). Screenwriters James Vanderbuilt and Guy Busick struggled to replicate the pointed yet natural and piercing dialogue that Kevin Williamson supplied for parts 1,2 and 4. The self-referential meta-analysis was there but didn’t spark the same glee as before. The killers’ motives in this installment were to kill the legacy characters of Sidney, Dewey and Gale, plus a crop of new teens in order to kickstart a reboot of the fictionalized movie-within-a-movie franchise of “Stab” (which are meant to be based on the life of Sidney Prescott). They were apparently unhappy with “Stab 8” for ruining the franchise they so loved and wanted to inspire Hollywood with new, ‘true-life’ events to base the next “Stab” movie on. It’s a reflection on toxic fandom and how people get so worked up over unmet expectations and the rage that ensues from it. It is an important conversation to have for sure based on the vitriol and abuse that is slung around in every artform over differences of opinion, especially on social media. However, making it the motivation for a massacre is questionable. I know it’s a purposeful exaggeration for effect, but it didn’t work for me. Scream is famous for flimsy motives, but this one goes a step further than I’m willing to take.

There is a lot that this movie got right though. I love the diversity. Representation matters and Scream certainly delivers on that front. Sam and Tara are portrayed by Mexican actresses. Mindy and her brother Chad Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding) are presented as biracial people of color. Mindy is also the first textually queer character in the Scream universe, and she is portrayed by queer actor Jasmin Savoy Brown. Mindy is the new ‘Randy’ of the franchise. She is effortlessly funny and so much fun to watch on screen. She is easily my favorite of the newbies. Jenna Ortega is a powerhouse as Tara and delivered a captivating performance. Jack Quaid also really stood out for his charming portrayal of Richie. 

Jasmin Savoy Brown (Mindy)

Everything involving the legacy cast was fantastic. Neve Campbell returns as Sidney Prescott, a character she fully embodies given her familiarity with the role. Her evolution over the five films has been a treat to witness and this new iteration of Sidney as a mother looking to end the Ghostface killings before it impacts her family is fierce and believable. Courtney Cox as Gale Weathers and David Arquette as Dewey return to their iconic roles with equal ferocity. Seeing those two characters share a scene is always fun, though tinged with sadness this time around, as they recount why their marriage finally failed. The intensity level is elevated knowing that Courtney and David have split up in real life. Its actually a really touching scene filled with genuine emotion. I knew these three would deliver; I mean they are the nostalgia factor this film is banking on! They did not disappoint, though I wish they all had more screentime.

It’s for all these reasons that I say Scream (2022) delivers more on the reboot front as opposed to a sequel. The legacy characters were thrown in to increase the stakes of this film, stoke the flames of nostalgia and bring the existing fanbase into the theater, not to further their particular storylines. The movie does pays tribute to the legacy of the original movie and Wes Craven but it is without a doubt meant to be a passing of the torch movie. This film was made for a younger audience, the new generation of horror fans. It’s a tough nut to swallow as someone who grew up on Scream, but I understand that Ghostface is eternal and has to carry on. And so, even though these movies are not made with people like me in mind anymore, I can and will still enjoy them. See you on opening night of Scream 6!

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John Hernandez

John A. Hernandez is a staff writer for Queer Forty with a focus on entertainment. He is also a writer for Vacationer Magazine and a contributor to Bear World Magazine and Gayming Magazine. He has a special love for all things horror and Halloween. He currently resides with his husband in New York City.

John Hernandez has 135 posts and counting. See all posts by John Hernandez

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