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Scream 5 Is A Clever But Contrived Return To Woodsboro

In so many ways, the original Scream was a revelation. A mid-90’s slasher outing directed by genre legend Wes Craven, Scream injected the genre with a much-needed self-awareness, taking the well-tread material and adding humor, surprise, and a wide array of genre in-jokes. It was fresh and innovative, and the sequels that followed continued the meta-trend to mixed (but normally positive) results. Scream 5 continues the trend for a new era (tragically without Wes Craven, who passed away in 2015). It’s a faithful, largely successful and fun outing with a slew of smart callbacks but a few elements that don’t quite land.

Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) has long escaped Woodsboro, the small town that’s somehow disproportionately beset with ghost-masked murderers. That changes when her sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) is attacked by a new Ghostface killer, setting in motion a chain of events that brings a host of new characters in alongside the central protagonist trio of Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Dewey Riley (David Arquette), and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). Things come to a head, secrets emerge, and protagonists battle evil with contemporary flair.

It’s a respectful sequel, very aware of the strange status of ‘reboot-sequels,’ adding new rules, and ground the murders once again in the troubled history of Woodsboro. The new character additions are welcome, and both Carpenter sisters are exceptional additions to the well-dread world, giving loads of personality and horror-know-how to the world alongside another set of standouts, Chad and Mindy Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown, respectively, who both revealed massive charisma and deserved much more screentime).

Altogether the film boasts some great scenes, a lot of clever moments of dialogue and callbacks, and a very welcome self-awareness. It’s a fun, frantic, and thoughtful continuation of the series in a number of ways. As reboot-sequels go, it’s a solid entry that should make any fan welcome the future of the beloved franchise. Unfortunately, it doesn’t entirely work on all fronts. There are a number of pivotal moments and segments that could have a lot of tension, but long pauses and slow plot advancement considerably inhibit the potential of the scenes. More fatally, however, is that the film fails a number of its legacy characters in ways I can’t totally describe without spoilers, but I will try… so here goes.

Its three legacy characters are badass, experienced heroes at this point in their timelines. The film clearly recognizes that. At the same time, they repeatedly get in scrapes that, frankly, they shouldn’t. Time and time again they’ve faced this crisis and time and again they overcome, but the extent to which they’re challenged in this one doesn’t make sense. With the set-up of this crisis, it should be small rhetorical potatoes and somehow, inexplicably, it isn’t. The film also has a number of plot contrivances that frankly cheapen the franchise, blunt the drama, and fail to make sense.

Altogether, the film is a fun and generally successful modernization of the franchise. Its main goal, updating it for contemporary times, is pretty successful, and the tone fits the meta-intelligence of the series overall. At the same time, from a plot standpoint it definitely has weaknesses in its plot logic and treatment of franchise characters. Is it the best in the franchise? No, but it’s pretty good… and sometimes that’s plenty good enough.

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