by Auden Chamberlain
The ‘legacy sequel’ – the new studio toy that hinges on cashing in on the old. Last year we had a sequel to the reboot of Halloween, the second attempt at rebooting Ghostbusters in five years, and even a return to The Matrix. The key is introducing a set of new characters that are intrinsically linked and probably very similar to the originals in some way, with those original characters key to the plot themselves – a plot that will create a façade of freshness without ever straying too far from the comforting formula. It’s an unoriginal and cynical trend, but it’s a trend that will reliably produce superficial but inarguable enjoyment: look at the plot of Spider-Man: No Way Home – Marvel knew exactly what they were doing and look at how successful they’ve been.
So, a reboot of the horror-comedy slashings of Scream was perhaps inevitable, and maybe it was the franchise best qualified for making one of these legacy sequels. After all, the whole deal with Scream was its revolutionary (at-the-time) meta commentary on the mechanics and cliches of the horror genre. This fifth entry in the franchise, simply titled Scream — which is a self-aware satirical decision in itself – is no different in that regard. New character Sam (Melissa Barrera) travels to the original town of Woodsboro after her sister is victim to a new Ghostface slashing, with her search for the killer not only bringing her into contact with the original trio of characters (Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette), but also causing her to wrestle with her own mysterious connection to the original killings. A new story drenched in nostalgia, that gives you the easy satisfaction of your standard legacy sequel whilst seemingly absolving itself from cliches with the franchise’s trademark self-awareness. Whenever the filmmakers make a reference or call-back (which is often) it’s with a wink to the camera. New character Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) is the resident film expert, who regularly monologues the rules and regulations of the legacy sequel to the audience – a modern equivalent of Jamie Kennedy’s Randy from the original, who is incidentally her character’s uncle. It’s all very knowing.
Is the satirical element just an excuse for laziness? The film is at constant risk of falling directly into the trap of making fun of the very thing it is, which is not something the franchise is a stranger to: Scream 3’s commentary on the trilogy capper suddenly introducing new plot elements that not only retroactively alter but also ruin the previous films doesn’t stop the film from doing that very thing. Scream (5) is far more adept, as even if you take away the knowing meta element, it’s a legacy sequel that respects its audience. The new characters are well drawn, with new leads Jack Quaid and Jenna Ortega clear standouts throughout, but more importantly the original characters are given fitting roles in a thematically relevant and sensical plot, that manages to work just as well as a satire of modern horror culture as it does as a commentary on 90’s nostalgia. Naturally there is a roadblock standing in the way of this entry that the originals didn’t have: the general irrelevancy of the slasher genre. It’s hard to make parodical references to modern day slashers when there aren’t any real examples of great popularity, so the film counteracts this by playing on the modern prevalence of ‘elevated horror’ such as Hereditary or The Babadook – films that use horror as a vehicle to metaphorically present darker, more substantive themes. How well this satire will translate beyond pretentious ‘film twitter’ users is hard to tell, but it makes for a fun comparison with your standard slasher tropes.
The well-balanced satire and respectful integration of the old and new provides supporting evidence for the actual existence of a fifth Scream, something especially necessary since the death of Wes Craven. The ‘master of horror’ understood that the horror and comedy sat in aid of each other, but one should not overtake the other. Scream could be funny and disturbing in equal measure – a dash of black comedy placed in a scene that’s intense and violent. His steady hand oversaw the franchise, culminating with 2011’s Scre4m – a commentary on the 2000’s culture of hunting fame and popularity that was perhaps too early to cash in on 90’s nostalgia.
After Craven’s passing in 2015 and the relative closure of Scre4m, it was certainly a gamble to bring the franchise back, both in terms damaging the franchise’s legacy and in balancing Craven’s tricksy tone. Ready or Not (2019) directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett step up to the mantle with confidence and make a film that’s not only fitting to Craven’s name, but also feels like a tribute to the man himself. Those satirical and comedic elements are handled expertly, but the intensity and violence of the horror set pieces is unflinching and well designed. An out-of-focus black cloak sitting in the background of various shots is a brilliant little detail that helps create a constant sense of unease, and the relentless tension building always pays off when Ghostface himself jumps out. Reminiscent of the intimidating presentation of Michael Myers in the recent Halloween reboot, Ghostface feels like a threatening presence. Sadistic movement of the looming figure is heavily emphasised, and violent imagery isn’t shied away from with this perhaps the most brutal franchise entry since the original.
Scream honours Wes Craven’s legacy with its well-aimed satire and bloody horror, both of which are presented with equal importance by the filmmakers. It’s as much a legacy sequel as any of the others that are bombarding cinema screens, but crucially it’s a good one and the well-placed commentary on its own cliches make them feel fresh rather than tired. But for all the effort put into the satire, if you just want to hear the gnarling voice of Roger L. Jackson’s Ghostface gleefully exclaim “Hello Sydney” over the telephone, then Scream will satisfy you in good measure.
Auden Chamberlain is a first-year Politics and Sociology student. As well as writing film reviews, he enjoys playing guitar and is secretary for Band and Gig Society. For more film related writing, you can follow him on Letterboxd: @arjchamberlain.