There are no bad Scream movies. What started in 1996 with Wes Craven’s original meta-slasher and now continues with Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s entry that only confirms what I already knew in the first place: there are simply no bad Scream movies. Each film in this franchise adds and builds upon the previous one and this most recent trip back to Woodsboro is no exception. There are so many individual moments in this film that make it explicitly clear that we’re not watching the directors try to copy Craven but instead carve their own path built first by a horror master they both deeply admire.
There’s a scene early in the film when Dewey says that something about the new attacks feels different, and oh man is he right! It’s almost like screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick took notes from Ghostface himself: the film hits hard and cuts deep, while always managing to balance the nostalgia with the new. Things kick off like we’re used to with a tense opening scene featuring an amazing performance from Jenna Ortega as Tara Carpenter. We find out she’s a big horror buff, but only when it comes to “elevated” horror. After surviving the initial attack things only escalate when we meet Tara’s estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barrera), Sam’s boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid, who sticks out as my favorite part), and Tara’s group of friends who know Woodsboro’s history and immediately go on the defense; to them, everyone is a suspect and they’re smart for thinking so.
These new characters aren’t just your average teens getting gutted by our favorite clumsy killer. To make this round of murders more interesting they’re in various ways related to some well-known folks from Woodsboro’s past. In any other franchise, this would have felt a little gimmicky but in Scream it works, for the most part. It definitely helps that we’ve already been exposed to our fair share of left-field plot twists in the previous installments. And sure, there’s some suspension of disbelief required to really go along with one specific moment but in Woodsboro I’m more than happy to take that ride. It’s a little messy, just like the lives of these characters we have grown to love. Both legacy and newcomers alike get equal time to shine and feel like fleshed out real people. When it comes to the actors, it’s obvious when you’re watching who had the most fun with their role — I am singling out Jack Quaid again because it’s clear he had a ball.
Just because there are new players doesn’t mean you can let your guard down, however. Scream serves up some deliciously brutal kills and while the body count doesn’t seem high at first glance, every single death is supposed to hurt. To me, they all meant something, and then as the story progressed the stakes just kept growing. The choreography of the death scenes themselves is just another indicator of how hard Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett worked to make sure we were getting a classic Scream experience made unique by their own vision of what Scream can be. Taking up the mantle that this franchise is was no easy feat I’m sure, but the two of them fit in so well it’s like they were always meant to be here.
Getting to come home to Woodsboro has been something I’ve been looking forward to for ten years. I was hesitant when this was announced in a post-Wes Craven world but now having seen it, I could not be happier with where we’ve ended up. It could’ve been so easy to abandon the formula we were expecting just as it also could’ve been easy to give the fans every single thing they wanted. But I think we got the best-case scenario: a film created from the legacy Wes Craven left behind but in the same breath creating its own new legacy. Of course, this film belongs right alongside the original four but it also stands strongly on its own. I think old and new fans alike will find something to love in this.
In the end, Scream was so many things. It was violent, it was meta, it was heartfelt. But most importantly? It was “For Wes”.
Scream directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett is in theaters now.