The new Scream asks what a modern horror movie should look like

13

SCREAM
MA, 114 minutes
★★★½

At the peak of Hollywood’s mid-’90s craze for self-awareness, Wes Craven’s metafictional horror-comedy Scream managed to be ironic even about its own irony. The characters could crack wise all they liked about slasher movie conventions, but that did nothing to stop a masked killer picking them off one by one.

Jenna Ortega in Scream.

Jenna Ortega in Scream.Credit:

A similar dilemma looms for the makers of the new Scream, the fifth in the series and the first not directed by Craven, who died in 2015. In the unfortunate town of Woodsboro, California yet another killer is on the loose, prompting the inevitable jokes about how this is just rehashing a tired formula. But is this, in fact, just rehashing a tired formula?

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.

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