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It’s only appropriate for a fan to be anxious about a new “Scream” movie, especially one that arrives 11 years after the last installment, and 25 years after the first film reanimated the slasher genre.
Plus, it’s the first film in the “Scream” franchise not helmed by iconic horror auteur Wes Craven, who died in 2015. Filmmaking team Radio Silence, which includes co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, and producer Chad Villella, who made a splash with their breakout horror film “Ready or Not,” are behind the camera this time. And “Ready or Not” co-writer Guy Busick teamed with “Zodiac” screenwriter James Vanderbilt on the script.
They deliver a fifth “Scream” installment that’s even bloodier and just as winking and self-aware as its predecessors.
What made “Scream” so revolutionary in 1996 was its ironic self-reflection; it was a slasher movie that plucked the genre from the straight-to-VHS discount bin and held it up as art by dissecting the rules and conventions of its formula while turning a mirror on the media landscape. Teen TV god Kevin Williamson wrote witty, wordy reams of dialogue, rat-a-tat analyses of horror tropes that made “Scream” something of a screwball slasher. If these characters knew the rules, they could survive the night, or so the wisdom goes.
The “Scream” sequels never lost sight of that self-awareness, revolving around the ultra-meta “Stab” horror franchise about the Woodsboro murders. The sequels are often over-the-top and silly. But they always serve up incisive commentary about movies and the media, capturing the cultural zeitgeist from the ruthlessness of news media to Hollywood’s constant churn of nostalgia and reinvention.
This new “Scream” is plenty sentient too. There’s much to say about the state of the industry, from juicy debates about the notion of “elevated horror” vs. retro schlock, as well as the tendency to constantly reboot and remake. Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) serves as the new “Randy,” a movie maven who explains that the new rash of killings serves as a “requel,” a legacy reboot/sequel that ties the new and old together, and the only acceptable way to revisit a beloved franchise (see also: “Star Wars,” “Halloween”).
Once again, “Scream” is telling it like it is, and it’s even blunter this time. That’s not the only cultural commentary. The killer behind the Ghostface mask will inevitably deliver a delicious monologue explaining their motivations: Did the movies make them do it? Or did they want to make it into the movies? Is there a difference? “Scream” has always had a finger on the pulse of the cultural anxieties around media effects, and this time, they’ve scraped the arguments that rage constantly through the internet mob for their villainous motives.
The overall concept, and its execution in the writing, is classic “Scream.” If there are quibbles to be had, it’s that the new film’s attention feels divided between the old and the new, with not enough time or space to fully develop everyone’s personal motivations. Iconic final girl Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) finally passes the torch to Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), who isn’t like other (final) girls. She’s molded more like action hero Ripley than she is the vulnerable and steely Sidney, bringing an aggressive physicality previously unseen from our slasher heroines and channeling the darkness behind her eyes. The kills are exceptionally brutal and bloody, shot with a greater sense of realism as to the strength and heft that goes into the actual slashing.
While Barrera and the rest of the cast ably take on their roles, Jack Quaid, as Sam’s bumbling boyfriend Richie, steals the show. He’s a neophyte in the world of the slasher, but he’s a quick study, picking up just why the “Stab” franchise went south, and why Ghostface might be itching for a rematch. In a world filled with requels, you’ll be glad Ghostface picked up the knife one more time.
Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.
Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes
Rated: R for strong bloody violence, language throughout and some sexual references.
Playing: Starts Jan. 14 in general release
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