To an impressive extent, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Ready or Not) and their team succeed in squaring this circle, a trick they accomplish partly by turning their film into a symposium on what a new Scream ought to look like.
Should the latest killer take inspiration from the “elevated” horror of Get Out and The Babadook, or get back to slasher basics? Is it time for the focus to shift to a new generation, or does the heart and soul of the IP lie with its “legacy characters” – serial survivor Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), bumbling one-time sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and hard-nosed reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox)?
Cleverness has its place, but the truth is the series would hardly have lasted this long without Campbell, an iconic Final Girl right up there with Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween. Across all the Scream films, it’s her conviction that allows us to believe that despite everything the stakes really are life and death.
The doe-eyed Melissa Barrera (In the Heights) can’t match this gravitas as new protagonist Sam Carpenter, a troubled exile from Woodsboro who returns home in her 20s. The standout among the newcomers is Jasmin Savoy Brown, who brings some comic verve to the table as Mindy Meeks-Martin, a worthy successor to her late uncle Randy (played in earlier films by Jamie Kennedy) as Woodsboro’s resident horror buff.
As directors, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett take a more broadly cartoonish approach than Craven did, and don’t quite have his knack for combining laughs with genuine scares – a challenge increased by current Hollywood conventions which dictate that an individual movie is just an episode of a potentially endless soap opera.
But this is a series that has always been in dialogue with their audience, which means that raising objections is part of the fun. Up-and-coming horror fans who are just finding this out may prefer to wait till the latest instalment is available to stream along with the others: a midnight to dawn marathon would be a night well spent.
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