In common with the recent meta-reboot of The Matrix – a sequel that went out of its way to resemble the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special – this long-delayed fifth film in the Scream franchise plays the hits, once more without much feeling.
Arriving some 25 years after Kevin Williamson’s Scream script brought a new winking, knowing humour to the slasher movie – a sub-genre that had, by 1996, started looking more crusted and dead than Freddy Krueger – Scream 5 styles itself as a “requel”. Pay close attention: a requel is part of an ongoing franchise in which “new main characters are supported by legacy characters”.
Thus – no spoiler alert necessary – a new bunch of good-looking teenagers are terrorised by a serial killer in a Ghostface mask in the seldom sleepy town of Woodsboro. They are, according to requel regulations, soon joined by franchise veterans Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courteney Cox.
As the group are terrorised and picked off one by one, they exchange genre rules, character bios and postmodern patois.
“You know that moment in horror movies when you want to yell at the character to get the f**k out?” says one, at the very moment when they need to get the f**k out. “Not to sound like a stereotypical jock,” says the jock at his most stereotypical.
Franchise fans are unlikely to require the script’s carefully trumpeted clues – “The killer’s motive is always related to the past”, “The first victim is in the same friend group that the killer is a part of”, “Never trust the love interest” – to figure out exactly where this is going.
More original imports – including praise for Jordan Peele and screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick’s swipes at toxic fandom – are crowded out by fan service. Scream 5 knows it’s out of step.
Opening scene victim Tara (Jenna Ortega) begs the murderer on the phone (Roger L Jackson, returning as the Ghostface voice) not to quiz her about the Stab movies (that is the franchise within the Scream movies depicting the events of the Scream movies). “Ask me anything about It Follows or Hereditary or The Witch!” pleads the teenager. This bloody incident brings her older estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) running back to Woodsboro to divulge a terrible family secret. Please see trumpeted clue number one. And so on.
In this respect, the film hits its marks. The script is smartly self-fulfilling. Devil’s Due co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett deliver jump-scares with mechanical precision.
The thrill, however, is gone. The film struggles to incorporate its older “legacy characters” into a genre in which adults are typically either unwilling or unable to help teenagers in peril. The cosy nostalgia of the enterprise sits uneasily with the genre violence. The killings are lacklustre. And for all the contemporary chatter about “Mary Sues” and “fan fiction”, there are no new ideas here, only 25-year-old ones.