Scream (R16, 114mins) Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett ***
SPOILER WARNING: The series that helped revive interest in the then virtually moribund horror genre 25 years ago is back.
With Scream, Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson not only made fun of “the rules” around slasher flicks, they also created an iconic boogeyman for a generation – in look, if not in character.
Two successful sequels followed, each increasingly post-modern and meta, before 2011’s Scream 4 attempted to revive the franchise for a new decade – and a whole new trilogy. A combination of relatively poor box-office and another Hollywood monster – Harvey Weinstein – stopped that in its tracks.
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Now, another 10 years have flown by, and Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) is the latest Woodsboro, California teen who finds herself home alone and harassed by an unknown caller asking her “if she likes scary movies”.
Threatening the life of her best friend Amber (Mikey Madison) if Tara doesn’t play ball, “the voice” asks her a series of questions about the Stab series of films inspired by the horrific events in the town all those years ago. When she stumbles on the final hurdle regarding who the original Ghostface killer was, she attempts to warn Amber, only to find someone wearing that memorable mask waiting at her front door – with a knife. A frenzied attack follows, one that she barely survives and that plunges all of Woodsboro back into a state of high anxiety.
One of Tara’s friends – and son of the local sheriff – Wes Hicks (Dylan Minnette) reaches out to Tara’s estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barerra). She left five years ago to start a new life in Modesto, but now, with her sibling fighting for her life, Sam knows it’s time to return to Woodsboro and tackle the demons that drove her away in the first place.
Accompanied by her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid), her arrival coincides with another, seemingly unconnected, Ghostface attack, before Sam herself finds herself targeted for execution. Fighting off her attacker, before revealing the truth about why she originally left to Tara, Sam finds herself increasingly isolated and in need of help from someone intimately familiar with the town’s troubled history. But Dewey Riley (David Arquette) is not only no longer the town’s sheriff, he’s in no mood to go looking for trouble.
Attracting old fans, let alone scaring up a whole new audience, was always going to be a challenge for directorial duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (especially with how synonymous the series was with the late “Professor of Horror” Wes Craven). However, thanks to a combination of clever twists on the Craven and Williamson template and the same visceral thrills, tension-building and swagger that marked their last outing Ready or Not, they’ve managed to craft a worthy instalment suitable for a time when smartphones, elevated horror and re-quels (movies that pay homage to their original source, but not all of the sequels) are all the rage.
Tara cites The Babadook as her favourite scary movie (“because it’s an amazing meditation on motherhood and grief, not just some schlocky, cheeseball nonsense”), while the plot makes great use of smart home technology and phone tracking apps as both a defence against an intruder and a tool to help them in their pursuit.
Copious point-of-view shots, stalking cameras and cleverly deployed false alarms help heighten the atmosphere of dread, while there are plenty of discussions about horror’s new set of rules, enduring classics, contemporary favourites – and disasters.
But although Halloween, both 1978 and 2018, is the oft-cited exemplar for what’s unfolding in Woodsboro this time around, writers James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, Murder Mystery) and Guy Busick’s (Ready or Not) story feels more akin to TV’s recent Dexter revival New Blood, with its exploration of genetics and legacies.
They also offer some interesting meditations on the extremely passionate reactions lovers of certain movies have when Hollywood dares to attempt a revisit (“How can fandom be toxic?” one character opines).
Amongst the Dawson’s Creek-esque younger cast members, In the Heights’ Barerra and Yellowjackets’ Jasmin Savoy Brown are the standouts, the latter as the guru of all things Stab and how to avoid certain death.
While amongst the four legacy characters returning to action, Arquette is definitely the one who makes the most impression.
A solid, if slightly unspectacular stab attempt at reviving the series, Scream is at least a worthy tribute to Craven.
Scream is now screening in cinemas nationwide.