Scream ★★★

“How can fandom be toxic?”

Scream balances out to “about fine.” There are some very good choices made here, and some very bad choices made here, and the film never seems entirely sure which is which. The film often feels more like a generic slasher than a Scream movie, which is an issue.

It shares a lot of the problems with Scream 3. Most obviously, unlike Scream 2 and Scream 4, it suffers from refusing to centre Sidney Prescott while still existing in the character’s gravity. At this point, it sadly feels like the most interesting thing to do with the character would be to kill Sidney off in the teaser, like Halloween V and Halloween VI did to the previous film’s final girls.

As it stands, Sidney exists as the sun around which these films orbit, but Neve Campbell appears to only have a limited number of shooting days. The result is, like Scream 3 before it, Scream has to keep Sidney largely out of the plot until the climax, but also has to cut to her early on to reassure viewers that they haven’t been conned out of their admission price. It’s a deeply frustrating issue with the film.

Scream also does that thing that Scream 3 does that really bugs me. It assumes that the audience wasn’t actually paying attention during the earlier films, so just makes up a set of arbitrary “rules” that don’t actually reflect the franchise, but instead just feel like they are correct. Any rewatch of Scream 2 or Scream 3 will reveal that the first victim isn’t always in the killer’s friend circle, Dewey. Any rewatch of Scream 3 will confirm that there aren’t always two killers, Richie. Those details might “feel” right, but they’re not actually reflected in the films.

Oddly enough, it’s the earlier stuff in the film that I really didn’t like. To put it frankly, there’s one returning character who has no business being there and really doesn’t fit with the general tone of the movie or the larger franchise - the practical effects involved also leave a lot to be desired. More to the point, there’s also a sense the movie wants to have its cake and eat it, regarding fan service. It wants to give the fans what they want while also calling out entitled fans who insist that they should always get what they want.

There’s a real sense that Scream 4, which just goes ahead and turns Sidney into an unkillable “Michael f&!king Myers” who stalks the final girl to the hospital, is at least more honest and more committed to what it was doing in telling a story about a younger generation caught in the gravity of an older generation’s narrative. There’s something frustrating in how reluctant Scream is to lean into the whole meta and self-aware aspect of it all, to settle for replaying the hits and then patting itself on the back for acknowledging fans can be awful.

To pick one example, there’s a sequence in Scream riffing on one of the best sequences in the original. A character is watching Stab, the in-universe adaptation of the events of Scream. They are watching the scene where Jamie is on the couch, watching Halloween. He is watching Michael Myers creep up behind Laurie Strode, and shouting “Jamie, behind you!” At the same time, the killer is sneaking up behind Randy, played by Jamie Kennedy. At the same time, another level removed, a camera man outside is watching this on a live feed, watching a killer sneak up behind a character played by an actor named Jamie who is watching a killer sneak up behind a character played by an actor named Jamie. It’s genius.

The new Scream recreates this scene in a frustratingly shallow moment. A character is watching Stab. As the killer sneaks up behind Randy, the killer sneaks up behind the character watching Randy. That’s it. Two layers. There’s no footage from Halloween incorporated into the scene. The recreation of the sequence in Stab doesn’t include the extra layer of the camera man watching. It’s just a shallow reference, a recreation of the most basic and faded memory of a transcendent moment in nineties horror.

And yet, in spite of all of this, I really like the third act of Scream. There’s a real and deliberate sense in which this feels like more of a deliberate “screw you” to The Rise of Skywalker than to the horror genre or the Scream movies. I just wish it leaned into that, like Scream 2 or Scream 4 before it.