ST. LOUIS — Here's some good news. Wes Craven won't be rolling in his grave anytime soon, ladies and gentlemen.
The latest "Scream" movie, co-directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, manages to revive the love and lore around the 1996 original that Craven produced for horror fanatics. The story of a Ghostface killer unleashing terror in a small town, slashing high schoolers and setting cinemagoers off on a wild mental goose chase.
Every viewing becomes a treasure chest full of whodunit possibilities, and that's the clever stroke of genius here in James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick's script. Instead of merely bringing back multiple series regulars (Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette) back for another rendition, there's a clever twist inside this thread. It may not be one I will unveil here (how dare a film critic spoil it!), but the movie acts as a tribute song to all the horror fan fiction fanatics-(like Jamie Kennedy's original plot buster in the original.
Here, it's the young-blooded cast (Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Dylan Minnette) that go through the "whatever you do, don't do this" methods of madness, and that makes the comeback here much more invigorating and fun to watch. A clever horror movie is always the first one in line for a rewatch, because you get to play detective once before sitting back to watch friends and family take the plunge.
Barrera's Sam Carpenter is the new Sidney Prescott in Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett's balanced take on the material, the center of attention after her sister (Ortega) is nearly killed by a fresh Ghostfaced killer. As her circle of friends tightens and the bodies pile up, she finds herself reaching out to old G.F. opponents like Prescott herself (Campbell) and Sheriff Dewey (a very good Arquette). What happens from there should be saved for the concession stand, once your ticket has been purchased.
What I can tell you is that this film is wildly gory in the best way imaginable. Arquette gets one great speech and a couple moments in the sun, as do his old(er) cohorts. I liked how this new take paid respect and homage to what came before it while spinning new ideas itself. But the gore happened, and that was important. All one is asking honestly from one of these genre offerings is to see the good die young in blood-drunk horror fashion with a reasonable payoff. You don't half-swing an attempt at a "Scream" revival 25 years later, and thankfully that didn't occur here. Going in with modest expectations, I left with a smile and a little blood on my hands.
In addition to being a fun and clever time at the movies, this one is a fascinating exploration of horror fan fiction. Out of all the cast, I had the most fun with Jasmin Savoy Brown's Mandy Meeks-Martin. Yeah, she's the half-sister of Kennedy's too-clever-for-his-own-good Blockbuster employee, and steals the show here as the new problem solver in the group. Brown lovingly geeks out as the friend in the group who tells them all not only about the pratfalls of the genre, but how it attaches to other popular film dynasties.
Sometimes, getting brainy about film history can overwhelm the experience. In "Scream," it only heightened the enjoyment of one last round with an old friend. Right when you think someone is going to die, they don't... at least for a few minutes.