Scream (MA15+, 116 minutes)
The worst thing about Scream is the title. I've never understood the artistic or commercial reasoning behind a later film in a series - as distinct from a remake or reboot - being given exactly the same title as the original.
Halloween (2018) is a recent example. It's bad enough when the title is really close, like Rocky Balboa (Rocky) or The Final Destination (Final Destination). When the title is identical,clear context or constant confirmation is needed - do you mean Scream (1996) or Scream (2022)? Filmmakers: use numbers - Roman or Arabic - and/or subtitles, please!
The Scream franchise was created by writer Kevin Williamson (The Vampire Diaries) and director Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street). The others in the uneven but quality series were Scream 2 (1997), Scream 3 (2000) and Scream 4 (2011). Unimaginative titling, perhaps, but clear.
Craven, who directed all four earlier movies, is dead and Williamson (who wrote three of them) is credited as executive producer this time, but the creative forces are no slouches. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett made the enjoyable Ready or Not written by Guy Busick, who's credited as co-writer here with James Vanderbilt (Zodiac).
Fans need only know it's one of the best of the films and will need no further bidding. Others will want to acquaint themselves with the earlier films before watching this one for true appreciation, but here's a brief recap of the franchise trying to be as unspoilery as possible.
Scream, thefranchise (ignoring the TV show), is meta horror-comedy, aware of and commenting on and referring and alluding to the tropes and cliches of horror - particularly slasher - movies while being a perfectly valid example itself. Characters are aware of talk about the rules of surviving horror movies (such as: never say "I'll be back") while not always obeying them, there are numerous namechecks of horror characters and filmmakers, there's a film series called Stab in-universe inspired by the events of the first film - it goes on and on.
The films focus on Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a woman who has repeatedly been the prime target of a series of knife-wielding killers, each of them dressed in a Ghostface costume.
While there have been multiple Ghostfaces, one of the interesting things has always been that, unlike some horror killers, they are human and often clumsy. If you prick (or stab) them, they bleed, if you push them hard enough, they fall over. The blank mask is scary but the person behind it is not invulnerable.
Throughout the series, many people around Sidney have been murdered (she's as hazardous to your health as Murder, She Wrote's Jessica Fletcher) but Sidney has endured, along with reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), an enemy turned ally, and cop Dewey (David Arquette).
The new film is set in Sidney's home town of Woodsboro, California in 2021, a quarter of a century after the first lot of murders.
The first scene, in which Ghostface is on the phone with a young woman, Tara (Jenna Ortega) who's home alone, is very similar to the opening of the original. It throws in a nudge-wink discussion of "higher" horror movies (including the excellent Aussie offering The Babadook) versus the lower-quality ones like Stab.
Roger L. Jackson is back as the voice of Ghostface - playful and menacing by turns - and adds to the feeling of welcome return.
Ghostface tells Tara she must play a horror trivia game to save the life of her friend Amber (Mikey Madison) but things don't go terribly well.
Soon afterwards, Tara's estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barera) hears of the attack and returns to Woodsboro with her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid).The news that a new Ghostface has come is met with a mix of dismay and wry amusement by the townsfolk, especially the teenagers (maybe this should have been called Scream: The Next Generation).
There's also suspicion: could any of the core group of young friends in the movie be Ghostface? Among them are Wes Hicks (Dylan Minette), son of Judy (Marley Shelton), and twins Chad (Mason Gooding) and Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown) - whose uncle Randy was in earlier instalments.
The juggling of characters old and new and various storylines is well done - there are sweet allusions to Arquette and Cox's offscreen relationship in terms of their characters - and the acting is strong (which can't always be said for horror movies). There's an occasional bout of clunky expository dialogue but this film, like some of its predecessors, was subject to rewrites after script leaks which might account for this.
Still, it works, and watching at Dendy I was kept guessing and wondering and enjoying the jump scares, fake outs, red herrings and references. If this is the last Scream, it would be a worthy one.