Scream ★★★★

Part of Hoop-Tober 2.O

Wes Craven's Scream has become a horror staple in the past two decades, offering a self-aware take on older slasher films that was pretty creative at the time. It's even more impressive that it holds up quite well, even with the cheesy 90s fashion sense. At this point, it feels like there's little else to be shocked about. And yet, for someone like me who just watched it for the first time, there were two notable elements that really took me by surprise.

The first surprise is that despite its reputation for reinventing the slasher sub-genre by poking fun at the cliches, it actually does little with them. For as much as the characters talk at length about how people in movies should make a "smarter" decision, they end up making the EXACT mistakes themselves. And whenever it does attempt to change up the formula, such as not killing off a non-virgin, it feels like it was done by accident. Perhaps those choices were intentional, but even then, it didn't feel like Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson were trying to say more than "people make dumb decisions in horror movies", which is something that anyone could have said.

The second surprise is that it functions shockingly well as a "whodunit" thriller, especially considering the blaring score, the prominent Dutch angles, and overall predictability that could easily cheapen the experience. Whatever problems the script has with the self-aware angle, when it's all about the mystery of why the killings have happened and how these people are involved, it succeeds without much effort. I'll admit that the most tense chunk of the film is in the first fifteen minutes, with Craven's direction and Barrymore's performance knocking it out of the park, but the rest is still pretty great, including the wonderful final reveal that slowly becomes an insightful critique on character motives.

In terms of the less surprising aspects, Craven manages to create a tense yet playful atmosphere that fits in seamlessly with the story and people around it. The lighting and color palette tends to brighten up even the darkest scenes, which helps to not only convey an appropriate amount of artifice, but also to provide a contrast to the script’s self-awareness. On top of that, he gets uniformly good work out of his actors, all of whom get the most out of what is otherwise devices for Williamson to send his message (bonus points for giving a compelling reason for the insufferable Jamie Kennedy to be annoying).

Despite the fact that the slasher deconstruction doesn’t hold up to scrutiny and it’s not the least bit scary, Scream proves to be a immensely enjoyable thriller that still has a few quirks to it years after its initial release. And while there have been notable imitators in the following years (The Cabin in the Woods being the most notable), none have been able to play around with tone as successfully as this.

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