Scream will work for many, and it won’t work for others. Unfortunately, as profound as the film is, it often trickles into some of the trappings of past films, the delivery of the meta commentary. When the directors of Ready or Not (2019), Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, signed on to direct under the pretenses that they would follow trends laid out by Friday the 13th (2009) and fully formed with Halloween (2018), fans had a sense of optimism, and they were right. Scream effectively brings the commentary naturally, even if the tried method doesn’t always stick the landing. However, the horror elements, new cast, and a phenomenal second half that satisfies the blood-thirst of the Stab fans within, lend it weight as another good entry for the franchise.
From the beginning, I saw the translation. I sensed why the studio was optimistic about this hiring, as Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett delivered Ready or Not with a similar tone and consistency. It struggled with the comedic angles but succeeded with the horror angles, bringing an elevated sense of atmospheric dread. They convey it in Scream, where the horror is consistently effective despite the presence of modern technology, which would seemingly make things easier for the killer. It doesn’t. Like the directors, screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick understand the levels of growth we’ve had, especially after victims’ previous attempts to fight back where they failed to overpower the killer.
This growth is seen through the emotional complexities behind simple character motives and filming techniques that allow it to play off the trend of elevated horror – and like the other trend Scream mirrors, this one doesn’t find caveats to satisfy both sides. They develop a better dramatic plot that hits the notes of an elevated horror film while maintaining the guts and splatter slasher fans desire. But what it comes down to is the execution and the performance from the actors in a predominately modest script that leans too heavily on creating parallel beats with the first Scream (1996).
In contrast to older characters, the new characters fight smarter as we start to untangle the mystery. It doesn’t play coy, instead letting its characters embrace or neglect incoming problems. Their acts of hubris are a great contrast to the film’s landscape, how their external knowledge may keep them thinking they’re safe because they know the game. That isn’t the case, as you can never play it too safe. As much as we mature our will to survive, our stalker finds ways to subvert expectations in any way they can. It could come from stomping on an ankle and breaking the bone or stabbing the arm or leg first.
Unfortunately, the horror elements tend to land more frequently in Scream, while the comedic elements from the meta commentary to character actions are often weaker. However, I can’t fault how properly they bring these different characteristics to life, like Mindy Meeks-Martin’s (Jasmin Savoy Brown) love of the genre, shown via her eyes and mannerisms. She and the rest of the cast bring proper dimensions to these teens, even when they still embody archetypal horror characters. The same goes tenfold for Jack Quaid, who delivers the best performance as Richie. It’s the same across the board with some outshining others, but that trickles down to their role within the mystery. Melissa Barrera impresses me as Sam after leaving me underwhelmed as Vanessa in In The Heights (2021), though nothing brought me more glee than seeing Chester Tam in a dramatic role after years of being a funny joke in Lonely Island videos. Ultimately, these new actors embrace their personas, even when the dialogue falters more frequently than the progression of events. It’s a film buoyed by great acting, horror directing, and a competently written third act where the reveal doesn’t leave you facepalming.
A few instances in the script have me curious about Woodsboro’s lack of urgency. After two violent attacks in a more affluent community, one could easily see the police having some more urgency to a call, especially one from a fellow officer, though that discrepancy may come from the state I live in, where a police car can be seen every two to four blocks. Either way, you have to dispel that disbelief. The slightly twitchy editing sometimes fails to make clear what is happening, so when individual kills begin to occur you aren’t fully aware. This benefits the film because it adds to the complex layers of suspense and horror when they occur. It isn’t like the final act where the editing may mislead some people, but it’s akin to the editing at the end of The Dark Knight Rises (2012), where it leaves you questioning time. Don’t question time, as the editing isn’t choppy like Bohemian Rhapsody (2018). Instead, it’s the linear sequences that may throw you off at first, but as reluctant as some of these things may sound, Scream is a triumphant return for two things: Ghostface’s kills and the unparalleled suspense that plays off classic horror films like Psycho (1960).
Alfred Hitchcock’s bomb theory, which divides the difference between surprise and suspense – a jump scare versus a clear vision of what’s to come, leaving you hanging on a thread waiting for the climactic moment – is present throughout, with the directors taking care of the lead-ins, the tension, and the thrilling action set pieces, making it easy to whisk yourself away within the confines of the story. There are clever tricks to keep you guessing, wondering what rules apply and to what extent. That has always been the allure behind Scream. It’s a whodunit, within the masking of a real-life horror film in their reality. When it comes to presenting the suspense and kills, they take no shortcuts in defining motives and consistencies that, like the original, do take you through a thrill ride as we slowly unravel the mystery.
Scream has a distinct way that it shoots and centers the action of the kills, that you’re always left yearning for more. Despite the film almost losing traction in the first half, the exposition isn’t tacked on too heavily and mostly starts to dissipate as shit hits the fan. It’s a film that understands what it is and spends enough time delivering righteous kills and such a tense third act that you almost want to replay it immediately. It is a film with some glaring faults, but it finds ways to remedy it with a quick bait, reeling us back into our seats with eyes glued to the screen.