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Review: The new 'Scream' more like a gasp

Film Review - Scream
Posted at 6:52 PM, Jan 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-12 18:52:02-05

Tom Santilli is a respected journalist and member of the Critics Choice Association, Detroit Film Critics Society and Online Film Critics Society since 2010. Tom is the Executive Producer and co-host of the syndicated TV show, "Movie Show Plus," which has been on the air for 20+ years in the Metro-Detroit market and Mid-West. He is also the film critic for WXYZ-TV. Twitter: @tomsantilli, Facebook & Instagram: @filmsurvivor.

Pre-text: I'm a big fan of the "Scream" franchise...heck, who isn't? The series, with all four previous installment having been directed by the late, legendary horror master, Wes Craven, began in 1996, and not only poked fun at the slasher-horror genre, but transcended it. It was fresh, new and different. Moreover, it was loads of fun.

The original film's success brought about a renaissance of sorts for horror movies, and was followed by "Scream 2" the following year, "Scream 3" in 2000 and "Scream 4" back in 2011. In my review of "Scream 4," I had wrote:

"11 years later for 'Scream 4' seems like the right timing for Scream to return with something worthy of shouting about. With the same sense of style and personality, I could see another Scream movie coming out maybe every 5 to 10 years, to give wry commentary on the state of the genre."Well at least they got the timing right...then new film, called simply "Scream" and not "Scream 5" as it probably should be, lacks that familiar style and personality that made the others so sharp (pun intended). In a series where the killer is always a copycat, for the first time, this chapter is more "wanna-be" than it is "wants-to-be-good."

Grade: C

Directed for the first time by someone NOT named Wes Craven, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett ("Ready or Not") take over the reigns and like the toxic fans that typically take over the Ghostface mantle in the movies, their devotion is evident if misguided. The franchise has always been in its best care by writer Kevin Williamson (who acts as Executive Producer here), who wrote chapters one and two, and came back to breathe life into the franchise in part four. Without his touch, the new writing team of James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick (writers of the two Andrew Garfield-led "The Amazing Spider-Man" movies as well as terrible films such as "Murder Mystery," "Independence Day: Resurgence" and "White House Down") lack the confidence to take their "Scream" film any place new...instead it nestles comfortably into its "re-quel" territory (not quite a reboot, not quite a sequel) and evokes a word that should never be associated with a horror movie: Safe. Yes, the new "Scream" film plays it safe, which in and of itself goes against the very fabric and spirit of the franchise.

Mixing the new with the old, some beloved franchise staples return to Woodsboro when yet another Ghostface killer is on the loose. Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell), the original bad-ass heroin re-teams with the lovable now-retired sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and his ex-wife, a national TV personality, Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). Back as well is Deputy Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton, who appeared in "Scream 4"). But the story mainly involves sisters Tara (Jenna Ortega) and Sam (Melissa Barrera) and their group of friends, including Jack Quaid, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mikey Madison and Mason Gooding, among others.

It's no spoiler - heck, it's on the movie's poster - one of these people is the killer. And if you have followed the "Scream" movies up to now, you also must know that it isn't actually "one" of them, but two of them. But which two? Part of the fun of these films is figuring out and decoding the movie's many red herrings, and it wouldn't be a "Scream" movie if there wasn't a ton of meta-dialogue of teenagers explaining exactly how horror movies work, and how the normal people stuck in said movies are so dumb for not avoiding obvious genre pratfalls (don't go into the basement alone!).

The main tongue-in-cheek "wink wink" of the "Scream" films is the in-movie franchise called "Stab," which allows characters in "Scream" to comment on "Stab" and therefore on itself. There are some hints of good ideas here and there that are never fully realized in any clever way, such as commentary on today's toxic fan culture that exists on social media, or how the horror genre has "evolved" with some higher-brow films like "The Babadook" or "Hereditary."

But just because a movie seems aware of itself enough to make a self-referential joke, doesn't suddenly excuse the film from all sins. These "re-quels" are quite annoying, and "Scream" is included. Couldn't they come up with some clever take on "Hereditary" or "The Babadook" instead of simply naming these films? Where the last (and the original) "Scream" movie took our expectations and turned them on their head, this new film seems happy enough to just point things out, like some sort of uninterested tourist on a movie-star bus charter that just so happened to idle through Woodsboro.

It might also be forgiven if it lived up to its Wes Craven-roots as a horror film. Sadly, "Scream" does not. I was at first annoyed and later appalled by its over-use of the same scares, relying more than heavily on "jump" or "reveal"-style scares for nearly the entirety of the film. How many times can one open a refrigerator door and then close it to reveal a character suddenly standing behind it? It's a question that has never been asked, but "Scream" seems more than happy to answer it (the answer is about 10-times too many, as it turns out).

Looking for the good, I was impressed by the screen presence of young Jenna Ortega, by far the most compelling newcomer. As a fan of this universe, it also was very cool to just be in the vicinity of some of these characters once again. But they all seem tired, just like the movies they now find themselves inhabiting.

I was all for a new "Scream" movie every 5 to 10 years, but that was back when I had confidence in the filmmakers to deliver fun, intelligent insights on the genre as a whole. If there was ever a sign that Hollywood is out of ideas, look no further than "Scream," a movie so enamored with its past that it wanted to share the same exact title as the first film, sans the "5." It's more of a gasp than a scream, desperately in need of some fresh air.

Grade: C

Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller.
Run Time: 1 hour 54 minutes.
Rated R.

Starring: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Marley Shelton, Jenna Ortega, Melissa Barrera, Jack Quaid, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Mikey Madison.

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett ("Ready or Not," "Devil's Due").

"Scream" is in theaters on Friday, January 14th, 2022 and streaming on Paramount Plus 45 days thereafter.