This new version has all the makings of a Scream hit: the self-referential jokes, the unveiling of the ‘rules’ if you want to survive, the foolish newbies who know not to split up but seriously can’t help themselves. However, there’s a big problem: I didn’t care about any of the new characters—and I think I know why.
Part of any good horror movie involves creating a bunch of potential victims who we get attached to just in time to see them killed off. Certainly by the time Tatum (aka Rose McGowan) kicks it courtesy of a garage door in the original, we were all in love with her character and rooting for her. Part of the key to making us care about her death? She didn’t want to die, and we as first-time viewers weren’t sure if she would or not until it happened.
Fast forward to the latest film which has made it nearly impossible to root for or give a crap about the roster of victims. The reason? The self-awareness that typically makes the franchise feel fresh has finally gone too far. This time around, rather than the characters simply knowing there are rules for survival in a horror situation, this friend group explicitly calls out that they are each inevitably going to die and that the killer is definitely one of their friend group. (No spoilers here on whether that all comes true or not.)
But making self-referential remarks about how they are doomed and how one of them is the killer lowers the stakes and diffuses the tension. The fun of “any one of us could be next” (emphasis on the ‘could’) is replaced by the tension-less “yeah, each of us is gonna die.” And the clever “one of us could be the killer” (emphasis again on the ‘could’) that leads to a degree of whodunnit-ness is substituted with “it’s definitely one of us,” removing any mystery or investment from the audience in who the murderer will turn out to be.
All of this aside, I want to be clear: I enjoyed the movie and I think it’s a real blast, especially for fans of the franchise. But I can’t help but think they’ve finally gone too far with their self-awareness, preventing me from becoming emotionally attached to any of the new characters. Fortunately, the return of the classic characters helps keep some degree of investment.
A bit of advice for the inevitable sixth installment? Let’s tone down the rhetoric. Let’s return to our Scream roots (something this film really tried to accomplish, down to a very familiar climax) by reintroducing naivety to our characters. Should they be smart? Yes. Should they try to outwit the killer by staying one step ahead? Yes. But should they also lack juuuust enough knowledge that they still manage to get in trouble while keeping us on ‘Team Victim’? Absolutely.