Every time there’s news about a new Batman, there’s a new wave of “[Actor] is my Batman” discourse (Kevin Conroy is mine, for the record). For me, a more important question is: Who’s your Final Girl? There are a lot of good contenders, but mine has always been Sidney Prescott, followed very closely by Nancy Thompson. I was so excited to hear about 5cream after it had been so long since Scream 4, and was eagerly looking forward to seeing it as if Sidney were actually an old friend of mine with whom I would be getting the chance to catch up. So, it’s a bit of a disappointment that it takes so long for her to show up here, which is further underlined by the fact that we never get to see the three main characters of this franchise reunite for, well, one last time. Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) gets scenes with both Dewey (David Arquette) and Sidney (Neve Campbell), and Sidney and Dewey talk briefly on the phone, but the three of them are never on screen together. That’s kind of weird, right?
It’s been twenty-five years since Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard) and Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) killed seven people within a series of peculiar homicides that were modeled after murders in slasher films. In the decade and a half that followed, there were three copycat sprees: one based around the “rules” of sequels, another those rules pertaining to trilogies, and in 2011 at the height of remake mania, a murder bender pertaining to sequels, reboots, and the like. But it’s been a quiet ten years, and all of our favorite characters aren’t where we left them. Dewey and Gale split up and he’s living in a Woodsboro trailer park, mooning over Gale still as she hosts a NY-based morning show. Sidney’s as far as she can be from Colorado, living her best life, presumably, since she has no trouble going for a healthy jog without fear of being watched; and she even answers her phone when she gets a call from an unfamiliar number (I can tell you one thing, if I were Sidney Prescott, I would never have owned or answered a telephone any time after 2002). All of that changes when a young girl named Tara (Jenna Ortega) is attacked in her home by Ghostface, and we’re introduced to our conceit for this time around.
You see, Tara likes scary movies, but only “elevated horror”: things like It Follows, The VVitch, and Hereditary (her favorite, she says, as it’s a “meditation on grief and motherhood”). But Ghostface doesn’t want to talk about that; he’s more interested in what she knows about Stab, the film series within the film series that began life as a “ripped from the headlines” horror flick about the killings in the 1996 original, and which had, by Scream 4, bloated to a seven-movie franchise which had long ago stopped pretending to be based on true stories. Aligning with tradition, Tara is forced to participate under threat of violence to someone she cares about, and she gets through the first couple of questions but gets tripped up by the third. Just as Barrymore’s Casey Becker fumbled and said that Jason was the killer in Friday the 13th (it’s actually Mrs. Voorhees), Tara says that the killer in the original Stab was Billy Loomis, as it’s a trick question—she forgot about Stu. In a break with tradition, Tara actually survives this attack, if barely; this leads to the return of her older sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) to Woodsboro, but as it turns out, that might have been the point. As it turns out, Tara and Sam have a connection to previous killings, and they’re not the only ones. Several people in Tara’s tight-knit group of friends are, as it turns out, with Heather Matarazzo returning for a cameo as Martha Meeks, Randy’s younger sister from Scream 3, now the mother of twins Chad (Mason Gooding) and Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) with whom Tara is friends, as well as a reappearance of Judy Hicks (the always-welcome Marley Shelton), now sheriff of the town after having previously served as Dewey’s deputy in Scream 4, and her son Wes (Dylan Minnette) is also among their group. That’s not all, though, as we also have Amber (Mikey Madison), Tara’s best friend, as well as Chad’s girlfriend Liv (Sonia Ben Ammar).
The biggest of the film’s flaws—beyond how little our legacy characters get to do and how late some of them appear in the screenplay (Gale doesn’t appear in person until nearly an hour in)—is that there are simply too many characters, and you can even see it in the poster. Consider the poster for the first Scream, which had five characters in total, including the three we would come to know as our principal characters in this series, but hyping up the appearance of Drew Barrymore, whose pre-titles murder is still the franchise’s defining moment. Then came Scream 2, which likewise limited its poster to five characters: the core three, Sidney’s new boyfriend, and (once again) the decoy lead who is killed off in the film’s opening. Scream 3‘s poster followed this trend with five characters, and then Scream 4 featured the first cast expansion to feature six: the three leads, and the would-be new Sidney, her boyfriend, and the new Randy Meeks. But the poster for this one has a full dozen people on it, and it’s just too many.
I don’t want to be the one to complain that Kyle Gallner is here, since he was in both one of the most original horrors of the aughts and the most derivative remake of the same relevant time period (Jennifer’s Body and the remake of Nightmare on Elm Street, respectively), so he feels like a genre acknowledgement that belongs here; but he’s also the most frivolous presence, existing only to provide cannon fodder for Ghostface and cement the theory that the killers are targeting people connected to the original killings when it’s revealed that he’s the son of Stu’s (I believe) heretofore unmentioned sister. When Dewey recounts “three attacks” at the 30-minute mark, I legitimately turned to my friend and asked if there was an assault I was forgetting other than Tara’s attack and “the one at the hospital,” and had to be reminded that he had been there at all. Liv’s also the worst kind of red herring, in that though it’s true that she always seems to be conveniently elsewhere when a killing occurs, she also is such a non-presence that when she’s not on screen; you forget that she exists. It is a bit of a narrative catch-22, though, since there need to be killings of people outside of this friend group to provide clues about the killer’s selection process, but if you change the story a bit and have, for instance, Dewey gathering potential victims who aren’t as familiar with one another to protect them from Ghostface, then you kinda lose the friend group Screamness of it all. And, despite all of that, the first two people I first and most immediately suspected, which is both satisfying and a little deflating.
It may seem like I have a lot of complaints, but I actually thoroughly enjoyed this one. It vaults over Scream 3 handily and lands just behind Scream 4 in the rankings. The reinvention here may actually be mpre clever, but it doesn’t feel as clever. The opening of Scream 4 alone was a fun, bizarre ride that really shook things up to the point where you weren’t really sure what the rules were anymore. The motive of the killings is fantastic; we learn early on that the previous year saw the release of Stab, which is actually Stab 8 (get it?), and that fans hated it—and from what little of it we see, with good reason. Stab has become a cultural phenomenon in Scream‘s world, and that world has now entered the era of The Snyder Cut, wherein groups of fanboys feel that the media belongs to them, so they want to course correct back to the “original concept” by enacting a new series of murders in Woodsboro to inspire the Stab franchise to return to its roots. It’s not as clever as “movies made us do it,” but it’s just as cohesive, and allows for one of the killers to deliver great lines like “How can fandom be toxic?” while holding a bloody knife.
-Mark “Boomer” Redmond