‘Scream’ is Still Nailing the Horror Zeitgeist

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Scream 2022 (CREDIT: Paramount Pictures)

Starring: Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jack Quaid, Mikey Madison, Mason Gooding, Dylan Minnette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Marley Shelton, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Kyle Gallner, Sonia Ben Ammar, Roger L. Jackson

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: R for A Lot of Blood, and a Few Chats About Getting It On

Release Date: January 14, 2022 (Theaters)

The latest Scream movie is the fifth in the slasher series, but it’s not called “Scream 5.” Instead, it’s just called “Scream,” exactly like the very first entry. This is the latest example of an annoying trend in which sequels that also work as reboots to long-running franchises have the exact same title as the original, with 2018’s Halloween perhaps the most notorious example. I had convinced myself not to talk about the title in my review, figuring that it would be more interesting to focus on the content of the actual movie. But then I watched the movie, and it turned out that there’s a very good reason for that recycled title. Because this time around, the Woodsboro stabbing crew is aiming its knife at those franchise “requels” and all the other cinema that inspires a certain breed of toxic fandom.

More than 25 years after the first killing spree, you could be forgiven for wondering how there still could possibly be anyone connected to Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) with enough bloodlust to justify another sequel. The answer is that this time around, the motivation is less logical, and therefore more brutal and disturbing. You know the sorts of people who complain about how the likes of latter-day Star Wars and female-led Ghostbusters have destroyed their childhoods? What if they were so upset that they resorted to murder to set things right? That’s a premise that could conceivably stand on its own as an original horror flick, but it feels all too appropriate that instead it has commandeered one of the most beloved scary movie franchises of all time.

In some ways, this latest Scream is like an original effort, insofar as it focuses on the new faces ahead of the legacy characters much more so than any of the other adventures of Woodsboro. But of course, it’s still very much a part of the franchise insomuch as it follows the formula of a killer (or killers) lurking within a friend group of horny young people while terrorizing them with creepy phone calls. (Roger L. Jackson returns once again as the voice of Ghostface, and his deep cadence sounds a lot like the deep, steady tones of original Scream director Wes Craven, to the point that I wondered if Craven had before his 2015 passing recorded some dialogue to be used later.) Don’t worry too much about staleness, though, as there are some zigs when you expect zags, as characters either don’t know – or don’t care – about the rules that supposedly determine who dies and how in a horror movie. Co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have a knack for keeping audiences on their toes like this, which they demonstrated amply in their 2019 bloodbath Ready or Not.

At times, the acting may skew a little more melodramatic than is advisable, but overall, Scream remains as remarkably fun and fresh as it’s ever been. Where originally there were conversations about how blade-wielders patiently stalk their victims, now we have discussions about how the newest generation of horror tastemakers are enthralled by “elevated horror” like The Babadook and Hereditary, and how long-in-the-tooth franchises need to find that sweet spot of “not too different, not too repetitive” to succeed. Scream 2022 finds that sweet spot, and goes in for the kill.

Scream (2022) is Recommended If You Like: Defending all the Scream sequels, Ready or Not, You’re Next, Talking with your fellow movie -obsessed friends, Film Twitter, Listening to and/or hosting movie podcasts

Grade: 4 out of 5 Requels

‘In the Heights’ Review: Washington Heights is So Hot Right Now

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In the Heights (CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Jimmy Smits, Gregory Diaz IV, Stephanie Beatriz, Dascha Polanco, Noah Catala, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Marc Anthony, Christopher Jackson

Director: Jon M. Chu

Running Time: 143 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Young Adults and Older Adults Dealing with Adult Stuff

Release Date: June 10, 2021 (Theaters and HBO Max)

How could anyone possibly sing and dance on the streets of Manhattan as the temps creep up into the high 90s? This is the conundrum that In the Heights forces us to face. Sure, it’s a musical, and its attendant heightened reality isn’t meant to represent literal truth. But the vibe of this movie-based-on-a-Broadway-show is very much “This is what life is really like in the neighborhood of Washington Heights.” So how to explain it? Well, the heat can make people do some pretty irrational things. And you can get away with a few bouts of illogic here and there if you’re generally focused on friends and family.

So just who are these Washington Heights-ians in the midst of a heat wave and looming blackout in this movie musical based on the stage musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes (the latter of whom also wrote the screenplay)? First off, there’s Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), Navi for short, a young bodega owner who’s looking to buy himself a plot of land in the Dominican Republic. Then there’s his teenage cousin Sonny (Gregoy Diaz IV), who could really use some documentation to firm up his immigration status. Also hanging around the bodega is his good buddy Benny (Corey Hawkins), who really ought to make things right with Nina (Leslie Grace), who’s buckling under the pressure of being the first one in her family to make it to college. Most of that pressure is coming from her kind-of pushy dad Kevin (Jimmy Smits), who never met a financial pickle he wouldn’t crunch his way out of. And then strolling right through is Vanessa (Melissa Berrera), who’s keen on starting a fashion design career while also making sure that Navi isn’t too much of a dingus for the two of them to consummate their obvious feelings for each other. Finally, looking over it all with grace and a steady heart is Navi’s abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz). And I cannot fail to mention that LMM is also present on screen as the local shaved ice cart pusher who has an only-in-New York rivalry with the neighborhood Mr. Softee ice cream truck driver (fellow Hamilton alum Christopher Jackson).

This story all plays out via the framing device of Navi telling the tale to a quartet of kids on the beach several years later. And that’s obviously the right sort of vibe. The older generation tells the younger generation stories of their families that happened before they were born so that they know where they came from. And I love to see it, because I am just innately fulfilled by keeping track of how people are related to each other and who’s friends with whom. In the Heights doesn’t need to have song-and-dance numbers to pull off that energy, but because it is a musical, I know that these characters’ familial, romantic, and platonic emotions are indeed larger than life.

Remember at the beginning of this review when I mentioned how senseless it is to be moving your body in the midst of the mucky Manhattan heat? Let me clarify: I’m not mad at In the Heights for that. Sometimes it makes sense to be senseless, especially when you’re in a city that’s not exactly designed to offer relief for that rising mercury AND you’re in the midst of a days-long massive power outage. Hopefully in this situation, you have enough brain cells to take care of what you need to take care of, and the thrill of In the Heights is making sure that these characters maintain the minimum number of brain cells. (Barest of Spoiler Alerts: They do.)

In the Heights is Recommended If You Like: Hamilton, Step Up 3D, Family reunions

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Lottery Tickets