There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie: You can never have sex, never drink or do drugs, never say you’ll “be right back.” But there are also certain rules that characters have to adhere to in order to navigate a meta-horror movie, like: Be extremely well-versed in the rules of horror movies, especially the classic slashers (your Halloweens, your Friday the 13ths, your Nightmare on Elm Streets). You should be enough of a fan to recognize potentially stabby situations — don’t go in the basement or the woods! avoid bloody valentines, terror trains and prom nights! — but not so much of a fan that you put on creepy masks and murder your classmates.
It’s a hell of a tightrope act that screenwriter Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven nimbly tiptoed, balancing in-jokes for a generation raised on VCR horror binges while still delivering thrills, chills and adrenaline rushes. Even in a decade characterized by pomo self-consciousness and mondo meta virtuosity (the ’60s got Godard and Dylan, but the ’90s gave us Tarantino and Beck), this 1996 hit relied as much on a shared knowingness as it did that signature Ghostface mask. And when the series started inserting their own reflective rip-offs within the franchise itself.
Do you like scary movies about scary movies that somehow laugh at yet pay reverence to other scary movies? Then you will love this new Scream. Do you prefer your horror to not be so back-pattingly clever about all of that, and to remove tongues from mouths rather than place them firmly in cheeks? Then you’re shit outta luck here, my friend, though that’s been some purists’ beef with the series since Drew Barrymore first put the Jiffy-Pop on the stove and picked up her phone. It also runs out of steam long before it runs out the clock, which has also been a staple of the series as well. Yet you have to applaud how boldly this fifth entry tries to flip the bird to the entire rinse-repeat-regurgitate idea of trapping film series in amber, while also delivering you the thrill of the familiar and those dopamine bumps that come with the pang of recognition. It wants to eat its cake and stab it repeatedly, too. And if you don’t like it, watch out. They might come after you in the next requel.