Wes Craven got to deliver four Scream movies – Scream 4 is the most underrated, and gets shoutbacks here – and I’d not be surprised if the Ready or Not duo of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett manage to equal that before the franchise goes into hibernation for a spell. Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott sits this one out and Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby Reed, not as killed in Scream 4 as we thought, shows up as an FBI agent to add to the legacy quotient alongside Courteney Cox’s Gale Weathers … though this is mostly about the survivors of Scream (2022) – which seems retroactively to have been renamed 5cream – and still more followers of the initial Ghostface duo who come after sisters Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega). As usual, there are a lot of horror movie in-jokes, signposted as such in the knowing dialogue (script is by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick) – the wittiest and most obscure of which is using some music from Friday the 13th Part VIII Jason Takes Manhattan in homage to the fact that this is also set in New York but mostly shot in Canada.
The ‘Drew Barrymore’ gig goes to Samara Weaving, star of Ready or Die, in a spectacular yellow gown and using her natural Australian accent (and comic timing) as a film studies professor who teaches a course in slasher movies but is still lured into a dark alley by a voice on the phone. Then, we catch up with the Carpenter sisters – who haven’t lived down what happened in the previous film, and are even suspected of being involved in that killing spree as perpetrators rather than victims … with Sam still having occasional visions of her father Billy (Skeet Ulrich), the killer from the original Scream and worried that she’s inherited his proclivities. Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), niece of Randy the Film Geek (and maybe daughter of Randy’s sister as played by Heather Matarazzo in Scream 3?), carries on the family tradition of explaining the rules … which is where this doesn’t quite gel.
So far, each Scream movie has been pegged to a particular stage in equivalent slasher cycles – original, sequel, threequel, remake, ‘requel’ – and this isn’t quite clear about its actual status (maybe because ‘the one after the successful reboot’ just brings to mind the likes of Halloween: Resurrection, Halloween Kills, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Seed of Chucky and other ‘for completists only’ footnotes). Mindy talks about this now being part of a franchise and suggests this means bigger, weirder, more absurd and convoluted (she misses out more self-referential, which would be a self-referential Scream joke in itself). In practice this means coming up with fresh Ghostface attack scenarios – some NYC-specific like a shotgun duck-and-dodge convenience store holdup and a stabbing in a crowded subway carriage, some just elaborate like a bit with a wounded women wobbling on a ladder stretched between apartment windows. It’s probably beyond the remit of the modestly-budgeted Screams, but at this point in the franchise they should probably be doing driving-a-car-into-space, skiing-off-a-cliff-with-a-union-jack-parachute or prequel-set-in-the-wild-west silliness to stay in the game. Given how dynastic the whole show has been, it’s a wonder no one quotes the Fast and the Furious franchise mantra ‘it’s all about family’.
Among the newbies in the victim/suspect pool are a replacement cop (Dermot Mulroney), ‘the slutty roommate’ who’d rather be stereotyped as ‘sex positive’ (Liana Liberato, who’s done a lot of impressive work lately), another giallo obsessive film fan (Tony Revolori – Flash from the recent Spider-Man movies), the virginal roommate everyone suspects who gets irritated when folk presume he’s the killer (Jack Champion), the cute guy across the hall (Jesh Segarra) and a couple of others you shouldn’t get too attached to. By now, the weight of backstory is getting very heavy, and somehow two films in the Carpenter Sisters haven’t quite clicked as protagonists. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett match Craven in ruthlessness – for a ’fun’ series, the Screams have always been cruel, cynical and shocking – but are only pretty good at shock and suspense. Craven’s weakest Scream (3) has stronger stalk/stab/jump scenes than the new filmmakers manage. Perhaps the most distinctive addition the current team have made is a particular style of over-the-top monologuing mania from the unmasked culprits in finales which have to explain Cluedo-level who-killed-who-where-and-with-what solutions with some fresh rationale for putting on the mask, using the voice alterer and picking up a knife.