When the first movie titled Scream (1996) premiered, people marveled at its ability to be self-deprecating. Before I go any further, I need to remind myself to exercise some caution. You see, to prepare for the latest Scream, I watched all four of its forerunners. The first one was a bit of nostalgia. For whatever reason, when I was a young, impressionable lad, I thought that it was, dare I say it, clever. It discussed all the prevalent horror/slasher movie tropes, turned them on their head, and used them anyway. Like a pitcher telling a hitter that a fastball is coming, the first Scream purposely telegraphed all its moves by abundantly referencing its own genre. It was kind of refreshing then, a sort of cinematic middle finger to a style of movie making that was provocative in the 1970s, but had grown boring and predictable by the 1990s. It was a neat trick, nice to view once . . . not four more times! But because I strive to be dogged in my pursuit of reviewing as many movies as I can for you, be prepared for the rest of these increasingly unoriginal films. By today’s iteration, they know that they are lacking creativity and do not seem to care. Hence, the caution I must use in talking about involves me trying to save something for the other four that I do not already say in this one.
Like every one of these stinking movies, Scream begins with a gruesome attack. Cue the teenage girl, in this case Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega), home alone and answering the phone, a land line no less. What a quaint bit of technology. . . . Anyway, as expected, the phone call turns out to be the masked assailant of the franchise known as Ghostface, not to be confused with the rapper. Hooray for a minor plot twist, I guess, but Tara manages to survive being stabbed multiple times and having her leg broken. We then switch to her older sister, Samantha “Sam” (Melissa Berrera), who receives the news from Tara’s friend Wes Hicks (Dylan Minnette). Sam had been out of town for a while, and her reunion with her sister in the hospital is not a happy one. You see (and this should come as no surprise if you are familiar with these films) Sam has a secret: she is the illegitimate daughter of one of the original Ghostface killers Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich), a fact that has haunted her since she discovered it as a teenager. After many years of getting in trouble and doing drugs, she decided to leave murder central Woodsboro (seriously, why anyone continues to live in this town is a mystery to me). This move upset Tara, and when Sam returns and tells Tara the reason she left all those years ago, Tara angrily tells Sam to depart. Undaunted, Sam and her boyfriend Richie Kirsch (Jack Quaid) visit series stalwart Dewey Riley (David Arquette), a one-time sheriff of Woodsboro and survivor of many an encounter with a Ghostface. They are looking for advice on how to handle the situation, and attempting to enlist Dewey’s help. Though he initially tells them to leave him alone, he nonetheless contacts the other recurring characters Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) to warn them that the murders are happening again. He then rejoins Sam and Richie, along with all of Tara’s friend group, in order to explain what to expect in the coming days and discuss possible suspects. Because each one of these movies needs a character to define how slasher movies work, we get a silly speech from Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown) about how what they are experiencing is a “requel.” This involves a set of rules that are supposed to govern how events will unfold. The long and short of this nonsense is that they land on Sam being the primary suspect, an accusation with which she is not pleased. She leaves with Richie, and the Ghostface murders continue. After Wes and his mother, now Sheriff Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton), fall to the killer, Dewey arrives at the scene where he comes face-to-face with his estranged ex-girlfriend Gale. Because I guess she happened to be in the area, Sam shows up as well, and when she sees all the police there, she realizes that nobody is guarding her sister. Dewey volunteers to go with her to the hospital, and ends up being murdered (for real this time) while ensuring the others escape. Sam and Richie end up taking Tara to a different hospital where Sidney finally shows up. Because Sidney has the most experience in dealing masked madmen wielding knives, she offers to help Sam as much as she can. Sam declines, deciding to leave town with Tara and Richie instead of sticking around the deadly streets of Woodsboro. Yet, on the way out of town Tara decides that she needs something from her friend Amber Freeman’s (Mikey Madison) house, and convinces Sam to stop. This is no ordinary suburban pile, but rather the same abode where the climactic events of the original movie occurred. And, of course, there is a party going on when they arrive. Anyway, the murderers turn out to be Amber and Richie, and after offing a few more teenagers, they are down to Sam and Tara, and Gale and Sidney, the last two coming in order to (try to read this without laughing) “finish” the murders. Together, though not without being seriously wounded, they manage to dispatch Amber and Richie. Finally, emergency personnel get to the scene, and while being treated for their injuries, Gale and Sidney discuss a tribute to Dewey.
This Scream is the fifth installment in the franchise, and one of the problems with having so many parts is the lack of originality. Aside from the characters pointing out this fact themselves, there are songs that you hear in the background that use beats from other songs but put their own lyrics over it. I could go on and on about how self-aware is this film, but even that would not be an original criticism. The Scream franchise has movies within movies where the events of previous iterations are depicted in its own internal series of flicks called Stab. Confused? Hopefully this will help: Stabfilms are the Scream movies within the Scream movies. They have the same killer committing the same crimes, and everyone either loves or hates them. This is annoying for a film critic because almost anything you can say about them they already point out in talking about the Stab movies. This gets particularly meta (a word with which I daily grow to despise) when Ghostface is stalking the party, and Mindy is watching the original Stab, which is depicting the original Scream, and her analog in those originals is about to be attacked. You are literally seeing nothing new in three ways, and yet we are supposed to enjoy this crap?
There is one poignant question posed at the end of Scream. As emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and police officers swarm the murder house, Sam asks Sidney if she is going to be okay. It is perhaps the only logical question uttered in the entire franchise, and the exchange is equally understandable. In Scream 3 (2000), Sidney is working as a crisis counselor, a noble profession for somebody who has seen so much death and violence. People like her deal with others in extreme circumstances. Mental and physical trauma leaves scars beyond what we can see imprinted in the flesh. As somebody who provides spiritual direction, I can relate to this from a Faith perspective. People go through tragedy and come out of it wondering why this happened to them, and blaming God for their problems. There are usually two responses: people either end up hating God or decide that He is not real. The latter of these seems preferable to many because a God who would let something so atrocious happen is not worth the trouble of belief. The role of a spiritual director, or crisis counselor, is not to say definitively why anything happened. Some things simply defy explanation. Besides, the director did not personally experience what the directee did, so there is no way of saying anything with certainty. Instead, a director is there to reassure people that things will, to answer Sam’s question, be okay. God is real, God is in control, and God does not let bad things happen to people without a purpose. Anger is understandable in the midst of mourning. It is also shortsighted. It is difficult to see past grief. But God is always there to help pick you back up.
Hopefully Sam comes away from this latest Scream with this understanding . . . and that they never make another of these dumb movies! Call me the square Catholic that I am, but I see no reason why anyone would enjoy a film with so much senseless violence. If you must view one of these movies, just watch the first and be done with it. There is nothing in any of the sequels that you have not already seen.