It has been 25 years since Wes Craven cut through the slasher landfill with the ring of a landline. A decade on from Scre4m, Ghostface is back to terrorise a new generation of horror-savvy teenagers still inexplicably answering their home phones. Come on guys; if it’s not a cold call, it’s a serial killer.
The Scream saga has always critiqued the state of the genre, skewering sequels, remakes and whatever Scream 3 was about. Now it sticks the knife to “requels”, the sequel/remake hybrid recently found in Star Wars, Jurassic Park and The Matrix – really remakes but with “legacy characters” providing the illusion of continuity.
Scream explains all this (including the repetitious title) in one of its trademark meta-monologues, yet fails to resolve the way these films undercut our investment in the story they already told. The problems previously unique to time-travel franchises like Terminator, Bill & Ted and Back to the Future are now true of any series that comes unstuck in time, a constant process of undoing and redoing that leaves you thinking: stop going back to the beginning, you did that bit already.
Cutting instead to the end, the movie is dedicated to Craven despite spending half its runtime slagging off his Scream sequels. One character calls the 1990s instalments “overlit” (an accusation better applied to this entry than the dark and scary-looking ’90s pictures) and another says of the films-within-films: “No one has made a great Stab movie since the first one.” It is meant to be a commentary on toxic fandom rather than the series itself, but doesn’t work because Scream 2 is generally considered as near a masterpiece as slasher sequels get.
Scream (the real one) made it look easy to poke holes in the genre, its deceptive genius lying in being a great horror flick first. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett made one of the best horror/comedies of recent memory in Ready or Not, however their direction here often appears amateurish. At one point the killer says, “Ever seen the movie Pyscho?” and then they cut to a shower. Other clumsy references include toothless discussion of “elevated horror” (Hereditary, Get Out, The Witch etc.), a nonsense term whose supposition that horror is implicitly stupid has seldom seemed so truthful.
The characters are entirely without description (particularly the new protagonist), with only the previously mentioned legacy cast (Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette) saving it from total unwatchability. The argument in defence of reboots is that they take nothing away from the original, and yet this one does in a couple of ways impossible to detail without spoilers. Suffice to say Scream 5 subtracts from the series without offering anything new, making it more leech than love letter; its only real homage to the original being to stab itself repeatedly.
It also shares The Matrix: Resurrections‘ unholy trinity (sorry) of replaying scenes from the original, spending ages on convoluted exposition and trying to critic-proof itself using self-deprecating dialogue: “This whole franchise goes off the rails with number 5.” Actually it did that with number 3, but at least that one had Carrie Fisher. The best that can be said for 5cream is that they don’t try to bring her back.