It’s been over a decade since Scream 4 hit theaters; it was legendary horror director Wes Craven’s final film before his death in 2015 and it largely felt like the final film of the franchise. Because horror franchises can never stay dead, as recently exemplified by the Halloween and Saw reboots, the Scream franchise is back for a fifth installment with a mostly-new cast and the surviving main cast of the original films returning.
Sure, bringing back a classic and beloved horror franchise is expected at this point, but most horror franchises aren’t as intrinsically linked to their director the way Scream is. This franchise is writer/executive producer Kevin Willaimson’s and Craven’s baby, so not having one of two’s input is extremely worrying. Thankfully, new directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (who, with producer Chad Villela, make up the Radio Silence filmmaking collective) put their all into this film and make it something both long-time fans and Craven himself would be proud of.
Scream 5 picks up in Woodsboro 11 years after the events of Scream 4, with a new batch of Ghostface killings sweeping the small California town. Our main character is Sam (Melissa Barerra), who’s pulled back to Woodsboro after her sister, Tara (Jenna Ortega), is victimized by the masked killer. Looking to find the killer, protect her sister’s friend group and bring a stop to the violence, Sam enlists the help of Dewey Riley (David Arquette), Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell).
The plot, in reality, is much more complicated than that, but I’m choosing to keep spoilers and plot reveals to a minimum in this review.
This film’s entire cast is fantastic, there’s not one dim bulb in the bunch. Usually, in a film with such an ensemble cast, there’s a weak link or two, but that’s just not the case here. The new cast, made up of Melissa Barerra, Jack Quaid, Jenna Ortega, Dylan Minnette, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Mikey Madison and Sonia Ben Ammar, are glorious in their respective roles. Quaid, Barrera and Ortega are the real stand-outs of the new cast. Of course, the returning Arquette, Cox and Campbell are all fantastic as well, even if their roles are smaller than what you may expect.
It’s hard to discuss what makes all of their respective performances so impactful and refreshing for this franchise without spoiling exactly what their characters represent for both the film and the genre tropes Radio Silence are playing on (and also just for general spoiler avoidance purposes).
The Scream franchise has always been self-aware and meta, riffing on itself as well as the larger genre the films are a part of; that tradition doesn’t change here. Some might even find the larger social commentary, and, by extension, the true purpose of this film’s plot and mystery, a bit heavy-handed or in-your-face, but this franchise has never been one for subtlety. For me, the social commentary hit hard and felt right for what the horror genre and Hollywood as a whole is currently experiencing.
That being said, I wouldn’t want there to be more Scream after this. To be fair, I felt the same way after seeing Scream 4, but I feel any more entries would make this series feel stale. Unless a bunch of new genre tropes that need riffing on come about in another decade, this should be the end. The genre’s landscape will inevitably shift again, just like it did after Scream 4’s release, from slashers and gore to the recent onset of elevated horror, like Hereditary or The Babdook (which are both referenced by name in Scream 5), so expecting to see Ghostface is a pretty safe bet.
Although it should be the end of the franchise, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film though, far from it. I loved it from start to finish. The third act, in particular, is so immensely satisfying and entertaining that it’s worth the price of admission alone. Most of the satisfaction comes from the genuine surprise of the killer’s motives and identity. Scream films live and die based on their killers, so the fact that this film makes sure it has the best since Billy and Stu in the original is as good an omen as any for the film’s overall quality. I would also say this is the franchise’s second-best film overall, just behind the original Scream and ahead of Scream 4.
I wish I could get more into what makes this film so fantastic and entertaining, what makes the cast so fun to watch and what surprises the film has to offer, but doing so would only cheapen and lessen the experience for anyone reading this. So know this: Scream fan or not, this film is more than worthy of your time, money and support.
Meta horror has become more and more prevalent as the years passed; the genre is becoming much more self-aware and aware of what needs to be changed going forward. Scream kicked meta horror into the mainstream 25-years-ago and it seems fitting that it should be the one to set the bar for years to come.