Warning: This article contains spoilers.
One of the best things that can happen for a big-budget horror film is when it has the ability to dethrone mainstream movies, such was the case for Scream 5. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the big-budget superhero dumps that are made to cash in a quick buck on overdone IPs; it’s always refreshing to see when something of substance can take away that coveted spot of being number one at the box office. Props to Spiderman: No Way Home for hitting that billion-dollar mark, but it’s not really warranted. What was warranted, though, was the popularity of Scream 5.
Nearly outdoing Scream 4‘s entire box office gross of $38 million, Scream 5 was poised to hit $35 million in its first four opening days. Whether you’re a fan of the franchise or not, and given the rise of our nth COVID variant, there is something to say about a property like Scream doing as well as it did. Leaving the theater and entering the sunny, albeit incredibly cold, streets of Montclair, I couldn’t do anything but feel weird. I was holding the idea of Scream 5 in higher regard than Scream, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. Is Scream 5 better than Scream?
This lead me down a weird mental rabbit hole of questioning myself: can a requel be better than the original? I mean, yeah, sure, technically it can. But should it? I wanted to explore that idea of whether it can, should be, or is even possible.
From a technical aspect, anything can be better than its predecessor, but what about subject and content-wise? I think to work through this conundrum together we have to make some comparisons and look at their dissimilarities. Before we get started there should be two notes: 1) if you didn’t know, requel is a term thrown around like a ragdoll in Scream 5, which is basically a reboot of the original film—think of Halloween 2018, and 2) there will be HEAVY spoilers throughout this, so caveat emptor, and all that jazz.
It would probably be best to start with the meta-ness of Scream 5 because at its core Scream was a commentary on the slasher subgenre, and made being meta in horror cool. There have, obviously, been meta-horror films before, but it wasn’t until Scream, for me, that it was made accessible (let’s not talk about the meta mess of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare). There are so many zeitgeist jokes in Scream that are solely based around being meta to be understood, which leads to a certain charm, and the same could be said about Scream 5 (though I think Wes lost sight of that a little bit leading to the series dud that is is Scream 3).
As with every Scream film, the opening high profile actor is getting toyed with by our respective Ghostface(s). These scenes are highly referential and bloody as hell. A quick note: the series failure Scream 3 was the only one to swerve off this path when Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) and his partner Christine (Kelly Rutherford) are attacked in the opening scene. For the majority of films in the series, there is always this wild, fun, referential opening.The opening of Scream 5 takes this idea and runs with it.
Elevated horror has been a hot topic of the genre community for the past few years. Some people hate it, some say it might not even exist, and others, like myself, love it. There is something about creating a horror film that is more about scaring you emotionally rather than endless blood and jumpscares that has taken a somewhat tired genre and brought life back into it. The lion’s share of these elevated horror films tends to be more slow-burn, deliberate, and raw, which some horror audiences don’t have the attention span for (boom, got ’em). So the fact that Scream 5 took that contentious topic and made the opening all about it is amazing. One of the greatest lines in the movie is when Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) says, “I still prefer The Babadook,” which got a good-hearted belly laugh from me. The opening from Scream subverted the tropes of a horror film opening by killing off one of the top-billed actors immediately, but Scream 5 does not do that; they spare Tara. Right off the bat, we are made aware that Scream 5 will not follow the Scream-ula that the previous four had spent so much time formulizing.
With exception to Scream 2, where Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) gets killed, Scream 5 takes the legacy characters Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and actually puts them in peril. This is exemplified when Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown) gets her Randy moment to provide us with the rules of requels. Unlike Scream 3 and 4, this rules scene gets back to the heart and soul that the respective scenes carry in the first two films, making it entertaining rather than boring and derivative. The biggest emotional beat we get in this film is when we get the typical Dewey gets attacked by Ghostface scene that we have become accustomed to, and unfortunately does not make it out alive. This takes us out of the tongue and cheekiness of the previous Screams and shows that this film is not messing around and will do any and everything it wants to.
Oh, and not to mention the cinematography from Brett Jutkiewicz is astounding. The things he does with the camera work in Scream 5 are leaps and bounds more impressive than the previous four films combined. This makes the film feel fresh, new, and accessible. It feels like the type of film that can get a whole new generation of film viewers to fall in love with the genre.
There is so much more to Scream 5. For example, how they go back to Stu Macher’s (Matthew Lillard) house for the final anxiety-filled moments of the film, making us nostalgic for the denouement from Scream. Or how Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) is Sam Carpenter’s (Melissa Barrera) father. OR the constant references about how you have to shoot the killer in the head, to make sure they’re truly dead!
There are so many beats from the first film that come back into play at multiple points throughout, which leads me to my opening question. Is Scream 5 better than Scream? On a technical level, yes, it is a more competent film. As a whole, and again Scream is, and always will be, one of my ultimate favorite horror films. But can a requel be better than its predecessor? That’s what I have been racking over in my brain. I want to say yes. I want to say that because I personally enjoy Scream 5 more than Scream that it is a better film. But I can’t find myself saying that. Well, I can but it feels wrong. At the very least, Scream 5 will generate conversations for years to come—from filmmakers like Damien Leone and actor David Howard Thornton complaining that Scream 5 directly stole from them to people like me saying the film may be one of the most cohesive and well put together horror films to ever be created. Radio Silence did Wes proud.
I find it difficult to say Scream 5 is better for the main reason that without Scream this film would not exist. Without the opening kill, without the rules scene, without Stu Macher, without Billy Loomis, without Sidney Prescott, without Dewey, without Gale…this film would not have been able to hit all of the emotional and referential beats that it did. Scream 5 could not be the film it is, without Scream. That is why I am uncomfortable with that sentiment. Maybe that’s stupid, maybe it’s too fanboy, or maybe I’m right? All I know is that Scream 5 will be the perfect nightcap to any Scream (sans Scream 3) Halloween movie marathon.