Review: Scream 5 revives the franchise with blood-drenched madness and timely commentary

Neve Campbell (“Sidney Prescott”) stars in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group's "Scream."
Neve Campbell (“Sidney Prescott”) stars in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group's "Scream." /

Scream 5 carves out a bold and brutal return to Woodsboro that lives up to the legacy of Wes Craven. It manages to successfully blend the past with the present while poking fun at itself, and current trends in the horror genre. This is a blood-drenched horror film that doesn’t hold back, takes risks, and shines a light on interest within the current generation of horror audiences. Fans will enjoy this long-overdue trip back to Woodsboro that brings Ghostface back into the slasher discussion.

Scream 5 was expected to have its premiere earlier, but its highly anticipated theatrical release will still go on as planned. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are at the helm of this latest entry in the Scream series. Franchise favorites Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courteney Cox are back for another outing with Ghostface. Joining them is a talented group of upcoming stars that includes Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Dylan Minette, Mason Gooding, Mikey Madison, Jasmin Savoy-Brown, and many more.

In Scream, a new person has decided to take on the Ghostface persona in an effort to uncover secrets buried in Woodsboro’s past. Barrera stars as Sam Carpenter, our new heroine, who finds herself in the middle of it after being lured back to her hometown. Sam’s younger sister, Tara Carpenter, portrayed by Ortega, serves as bait along with her friends, who round out the next generation of Woodsboro. Acting as a requel, Scream 5 introduces a new story connected to the original while keeping every sequel canon.

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Ghostface and Jenna Ortega in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group’s “Scream.” /

Does Scream 5 breathe new life into the franchise?

There was a time where it seemed the passing of Craven had closed to door on Scream movies. This weekend, a twisty and timely new chapter arrives to breathe life back into the series. Shifting the focus away from Sidney Prescott had me worried at first, but Sam possesses most of Sidney’s qualities. She finds herself in a victim role, has a troubled past, and struggles to cope with it. While Sidney was regarded as the girl next door, Sam has an edgier side that isn’t fully uncovered in this film.

Her secret past is used against her, similar to how Ghostface taunted Sidney with her mother’s death. Writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick understand what is necessary for you to grow invested in Sam’s progression and accomplish that here for me. At times, Sam does come across as a mix of the best traits from Sidney and her former rival portrayed by Cox, Gale Weathers. Speaking of Gale, her hopes of revitalizing her “tarnished brand” were turned into reality.

Sadly, her time with Dewey Riley, portrayed by Arquette, came to an end. Knowing that the two have split allows Cox and Arquette to shine during their time on screen together. Dewey isn’t doing that well and has lost his position as Sheriff to Judy Hicks, who is once again portrayed by Marley Shelton. This is a side of Dewey that should pull at the heartstrings of those that grew up with these characters.

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Neve Campbell (“Sidney Prescott”) stars in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group’s “Scream.” /

As for Sidney, she has dropped the role of victim in favor of a more confident and content version of herself. Wisely living away from Woodsboro, she is reeled back in for another bloody ride in her hometown. Campbell captures the confidence oozing from Sidney with ease, there are no signs of self-doubt, and she makes the smartest decisions ever. It’s an appropriate role for Sidney to be in at this stage in her life, as she attempts to protect Sam and her loved ones from the killer.

Tara’s friends include Mindy Meeks-Martin, Chad Meeks-Martin, Wes Hicks, Liv McKenzie, and Amber Freeman. Scream spends a great amount of time with this group when Sam returns, which gives a chance for you to grow attached to a few of them. Brown stars as Mindy, the niece of Randy Meeks, who acts as a mouthpiece for today’s horror audience. Her horror knowledge combined with her passion for the Stab franchise was a delight to witness.

The dialogue in Scream is filled with references to iconic horror films and today’s elevated horror craze. In fact, Tara shares a back and forth with Ghostface, portrayed by Roger L. Jackson, to start the film. It’s a conversation that will have horror audiences cheering and applauding until the terror kicks in. Wanting to live up to Drew Barrymore’s iconic opening, Ortega’s fearful performance amplifies the tension being built throughout the sequence. Also, several events turn dialogue from the original film into foreshadowing.

In true Scream fashion, Vanderbilt, and Busick have put together a relevant commentary on fandom and current Hollywood trends. Not calling out any specific fandom, Scream just takes pleasure at calling out toxic fans. Many would argue that Scream 4 was ahead of its time, and that argument only grows stronger with the rise of TikTok stars and other social platforms. Scream aka Scream 5, isn’t ahead of the times but has arrived during a climate that suits the subject matter it addresses.

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Ghostface in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group’s “Scream.” /

Scream 5 includes a bonkers final act but doesn’t allow it to breathe

Being able to effectively make a Scream movie that doesn’t rely on Sidney Prescott’s presence is a great accomplishment. It’s even more impressive that Scream is able to retain its momentum without her and spark interest in seeing more from the new survivors. Along the way, pacing prevents certain moments from getting the attention they deserve. A lot of first for the series occur, which shouldn’t be overlooked by tenured Scream fans. The finale takes place at a recreated Macher house, the final location of the original film.

While the finale serves as a fitting and action-packed conclusion, Ghostface’s motive and other revelations are rushed through. The motive is fresh and not a rehash of the past, so spending more time digesting why Ghostface was back would have been made the film’s commentary stand out better. A gut-wrenching moment takes place that affects the lives of all involved. Yet, the two it impacts the most don’t get to spend time processing what has occurred.

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Melissa Barrera (“Sam”) stars in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group’s “Scream.” /

Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett do a fantastic job at building tension by drawing attention to background space and items blocking off a character’s view. Brian Tyler’s score only heightens the emotions felt during the opening and throughout the rest of the film. Each track is placed at the right moment and a franchise staple makes a glorious return during a kill scene. A lot of sequences feel like callbacks to past sequels. One moment is definitely a callback to Cotton Weary’s opening attack in Scream 3, but with a more unexpected outcome.

At one point, Sidney finds herself in front of Stu Macher’s old house, and the way it’s framed gave me goosebumps, allowing you to relive the trauma with her before she goes inside. Scream impresses for many reasons, which makes Craven’s absence that much worse because I think he’d be in love with this new entry. The legacy cast deliver another round of remarkable performances. Barrera, Ortega, and Savoy-Brown stand out from the new cast, and Barrera’s performance as Sam is very convincing and makes her growth fun to watch.

Scream 5 pays respect to Craven while introducing a fresh take backed by a talented group who understood what made the previous films so beloved. The humor flows quite well with the terror and doesn’t ever feel ill-timed. A bold new entry that wasn’t afraid to shatter hearts while also making you feel terrified and amused. If this exceeds box office expectations, Ghostface may return to Woodsboro once again.

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Will you be watching Scream 5 as soon as it arrives in theaters this weekend?