Skip to main content

Just call it Stab 8. You’re not fooling anyone.

Scream
(2022)

(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to the Scream 5 trailer was that the movie was missing the charm – if you can call it that – of earlier instalments and would likely be greeted with indifference. Well clearly, I was erroneous in predicting box office gloom, but my assessment of the picture’s tone was fairly accurate. Scream’s ruthlessly meta- elements are often well orchestrated by writers James Vanderbilt and Gary Busick (and at times emphatically not so), but there’s something ruthlessly impersonal about the exercise – even compared to the cynicism of Scream 4’s failed cash grab.

I’m not sure I’ve seen any of the previous Screams more than once (If I have, it would have been the first). I do, however, recall enjoying the self-reflexive element, particularly as it progressed into sequel lore and movies within movies. Scream 5 (I’ll call it that for the sake of clarity) makes some initially in-keeping gestures towards the way horror has changed in the decade since Scream 4. I’m on board with the cynicism towards “elevated horror” outlined in the opening scene, as there’s something of an old-wine-in-new-skins flavour to their being “scary but with complex emotional and thematic underpinnings” (and I’ve enjoyed a good few of those mentioned – It Follows, Hereditary, The Witch, “I mean, Jordan Peele fucking rules”, well one of his does – less so The Babadook: “It’s an amazing meditation on motherhood and grief”).

Scream 5, though, is treading the ground of the “re-quel”, duly outlined therein and often an attempted course correct due to franchise owners having “pissed on their childhoods with the last sequel”. You “can’t just reboot from scratch” any more (Black Christmas, Flatliners and Child’s Play are referenced), we are told. And while you don’t want a straight sequel either, you don’t want to make it too new, hence the inclusion of legacy characters (Halloween, Jurassic Park, Terminator, Star Wars, Ghostbusters). Of course, at least some of these have met with doses of fan opprobrium, and this danger is acknowledged in reference to the Stabs (“The whole franchise goes off the rails with Number 5”); Scream 5 appears to have met with applause, by and large, but so did The Force Awakens, at first blush.

We’re informed “anyone can die in a re-quel” and Vanderbilt, Busick and directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett – replacing Wes Craven, to whom this is dedicated – emphasise this by killing off one of their three main legacy characters. At one point, we’re told it “wouldn’t be a bona fide Halloween without Jamie Lee”; in contrast, I’d argue it’s actually Donald Pleasance who filled those shoes. I had a sense they were going to dispose of Dewey (David Arquette) from the trailer, and his positioning is remarkably similar to Han Solo in The Force Awakens; he’s washed up, estranged from his wife, and is killed gratuitously and unnecessarily as a “shock” that entirely fails to pay the character off. I’d argue it’s actually much worse in Dewey’s case, though. The unlikeness of his surviving each time was one of the key appealing parts of the series (as he says, he’s been stabbed nine times, has permanent nerve damage and a limp). He’s thrown away here in a manner that ejects the series’ personable core. Again, if you can call it that.

In that sense, Scream 5 could be argued to fulfil its remit entirely – is that the most meta- part of it? That it should be as dissatisfying as all the other re-quels, mixing up elements from the first one to ultimately weak-sauce results? Obviously, neither Gale (Courtney Cox) nor Sidney (Neve Campbell) were going to be given the chop, as one of the other keys of a re-quel is a strong female lead (okay, perhaps not Jurassic World). I’m slightly surprised the line “But I guess being a sexually available woman is empowering these days” was allowed through (in reference to Melissa Barrera’s Sam Carpenter), but it is coming from one of the killers (Jack Quaid’s Richie Kirsch, so a toxic male).

The movie’s attempt to hitch the killers’ motivation to toxic fandom in action is a hot mess, really. No one here is smart enough to make that function coherently. Richie is pissed at the treatment of the Stab movies (which have reached Stab 8) and believes “Someone has to save the franchises”; “How can fandom be toxic? It’s about love. Hollywood is totally without ideas”.

It would have been much more impressive to have self-awareness of toxic fandom’s toxicity on the part of the killers, and incorporate that into their modus operandi (rather than simply being toxic about being accused of toxicity). One of the scenes I did like, even if it wasn’t quite as seamlessly executed as it might have been, was Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) watching a Stab character (Christopher Speed) watching Halloween. Such self-reflexivity might have extended to the killers’ motivation, which is disappointingly vanilla in its moralising, but to be expected from Hollywood’s current diktats; if you criticise Scream 5’s depiction of toxic fandom you’re probably toxic yourself, since the very term carries a pejorative that those involved are inherently at fault, as a means of distracting from/negating the substance of their criticism.

Taken to its conclusion then, Scream 5’s ending is either the height of astuteness, so even more super-meta- – by raising the spectre of toxic fandom, the makers instantly earn the respect of a legitimate commentary that distracts from the movie not making much sense – or depressingly unimaginative. I tend to the latter interpretation, on the basis that the movie as a whole lacks the necessary spark. It’s functional, but it isn’t really having fun with its characters, or the “re-quel” remit.

Barrera isn’t really much of a lead (Jenna Ortega is more engaging as her sister, although her big moment is the opening). Mikey Madison (Amber) has history as a psycho in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. She’s set up as a sour-faced killer type early on here, the only red flag being that acting like Michael Myers by way of Jason Voorhees when playing Ghostface is absurd enough with Richie, let alone her too. Quaid may have Dennis as a dad and Meg as a mum, but he looks like next-gen Joshua Jackson. Savoy Brown (The Leftovers) is probably the best of the new cast, as the twin sister of Chad (Mason Gooding). Although, if they wanted twins, they could have asked Josh Hartnett to appear with his brother Neve Campbell, looking decidedly the worse for years. Cox looks downright ghastly, as if she’s been desiccating in a coffin for the past six years. I’m assuming she uses Joan Rivers’ plastic surgeon.

Dewey (“Shitty Sam Elliott”) delivers the Scream lore this time (never trust the love interest; the killer’s motive is always connected to something from the past; the first victim always has a friend group the killer is a part of). The third act attempts meta- to cover its gaping holes in logic (“Who has a party in the middle of a killing spree?”), but as with the killers, it would have been more rewarding to make those kids self-aware, as opposed to gormless potential slasher fodder. The spectre of Billy Loomis only serves to show how old Skeet Ulrich has got (I even wondered if that was actually him initially).

It seems to me too that the movie is much gorier than I remembered of previous instalments. Which again, would be the re-quel emphasising the wrong elements (but completely in keeping with the 2018 Halloween as compared to the largely blood-free 1978 original). In my verdict on Scream 5 then, I can only concur with Sheriff Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton): “I prefer animated films and musicals”. Further still, and it pains me to say it, but yes, I prefer The Babadook too.


Popular posts from this blog

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

Tippy-toe! Tippy-toe!

Seinfeld 2.7: The Phone Message The Premise George and Jerry both have dates on the same night. Neither goes quite as planned, and in George’s case it results in him leaving an abusive message on his girlfriend’s answerphone. The only solution is to steal the tape before she plays it. Observational Further evidence of the gaping chasm between George and Jerry’s approaches to the world. George neurotically attacks his problems and makes them worse, while Jerry shrugs and lets them go. It’s nice to see the latter’s anal qualities announcing themselves, however; he’s so bothered that his girlfriend likes a terrible TV advert that he’s mostly relieved when she breaks things off (“ To me the dialogue rings true ”). Neither Gretchen German (as Donna, Jerry’s date) nor Tory Polone (as Carol, George’s) make a huge impression, but German has more screen time and better dialogue. The main attraction is Jerry’s reactions, which include trying to impress her with hi

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…