Review: ‘Scream’ plays games with horror tropes to thrilling success (spoiler-free)
Ghostface is back and thirsty for more thrills in the latest installment of the Scream franchise. Audiences are grabbing their finest Scream regalia and heading to theaters to see the latest happenings in Woodsboro. As an infamous character in the series once said — “It’s a scream, baby!”
As the movie kicks off, we’re met with a recognizable scene — a young girl, alone in a house, answering an unknown caller on her landline. A callback to Casey Becker felt familiar, like welcoming us home to Woodsboro after a lengthy absence. But Tara, the young woman, isn’t talking to a stranger, as the voice on the other line says they’re a friend of her mother’s. While the friendliness of the call puts the audience at ease by subverting the franchise’s eerie mystery caller trope, it doesn’t take long for the conversation to turn to a new topic — horror. The scene mirrors the mood change technique Scream has perfected: you think you’re safe inside your own home until a horrifying and sudden shift.
Ghostface thrives on terrorizing people, and playing a game is his twisted way of achieving that. The stakes are sky-high, life is always on the line, and rules can be broken. Bonus questions, practice rounds, and wording that could lead to a wrong answer on purpose are part of his diabolical scheme. His victim’s mental anguish is part of his fun.
An entirely new clique of friends constitutes fresh blood in Woodsboro, but several characters from the original cast reprise their roles. We discover that some of the new characters are related to the original Woodsboro victims and killers. It’s not unheard of for this to happen in the small town of Woodsboro — just look at the history of Scream — but it feels different this time around. They’ve all got ties to the horror plaguing the town, and they’ve all got their own motives, as fan-favorite Dewey explains to the group trying to stop Ghostface before more bodies pile up.
It’s going to take both legacy characters and the newbies to stop the killing spree, but how many will fall victim first? We’ve got new love interests, pesky familial ties, and just plain evil to consider. Back with a vengeance, Ghostface feels nearly impossible to stop this time around.
The characters play true to themselves as the story unfolds, and we get small glimpses into the residents of Woodsboro. We’re reminded why we love Dewey, Sidney, and even Gale so much, as we get screen time with them. We see them as they’ve grown, for better or worse, and the humanity they still believe in — despite everything they’ve seen — solidifies them as Scream royalty.
In comparison to other franchise installments, there aren’t as many chase scenes in Scream, the gore is extra bloody, and some of the deaths feel rushed, but it all feeds into a dramatic climax. Of course, the third act is always crucial, but this time, it’s got a lot to say. We aren’t just unmasking killers at the end of Scream, we’re unmasking motives.
Along with blood, gore, and brutality, Scream slides in a series of meta stabs at its own franchise and pokes fun at horror in general. From general scary movie lovers to over-zealous fans with opinions as sharp as the blade on Ghostface’s knife, no one is safe from the snarky and ever-sarcastic commentary of Scream.
Part of the Scream franchise’s appeal is finding the humor in the expertly placed commentary, the mocking undertones, and the fact that, sometimes, we all fall victim to the killer’s charms. Would you survive until the end? Would you remember how to ensure that the killer stays dead? Would you slip up and say, “I’ll be right back,” or impatiently go grab a beer alone?
You’ll have to watch Scream to find out who Ghostface claims as a victim, which horror tropes are embraced or eschewed, and, ultimately, who the killers are. As always, a few things are abundantly clear: The killers are never strangers, there’s always a motive they’re willing to die for, and as long as the Ghostface legend exists, someone will be waiting to don the mask.
Back from the dead, the new chapter of the Scream series brings us back to the story we initially fell in love with, while creating a dynamic where Ghostface can strike again to continue his bloody carnage. The small town will always hold familial ties, horror will be a forever-changing genre, and fans will always think they know best. As a result, Ghostface has enough material to work with to be a pivotal game player for years to come.
Scream brings the old and the new together wonderfully for the latest installment of the franchise. Ghostface has a long list of victims and it's going to take everyone working together to put a stop to the slasher. Who will fall victim before it's all said and done and who lives to see another day? The "love letter" to Wes Craven hits home with long-time Scream fans and invites newer audiences to take a look at Woodsboro's history and find out the always existing questions of who did it and why?