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Why Scream 5 Is at Its Best When It’s a Straight-Up Melodrama

Scream introduces some surprisingly dramatic beats to the franchise, and they’re some of the film’s best moments.

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Scream, now playing in theaters.

The Scream franchise is known for its bloody kills and snarky tone, targeting the genre trappings that it still utilizes. It’s never been super committed to character drama, instead preferring a snarky and defiant tone. But that’s not quite the case in the latest entry in the series.

The surprising dramatic beats that play out in Scream’s second act are surprisingly effective for a movie that largely eschews character development like this. It’s just a shame the rest of the film’s characters couldn’t get as much development.

RELATED: Every Franchise Character Returning In Scream 2022

Amidst the meta-commentary about modern horror films, slasher-style jumpscares and angsty teenage comedy, Scream actually ends up featuring two distinctly dramatic storylines. Sam (Melissa Barrera) is the nominal lead character of the film, dealing with her family issues across the course of the film. Secretly the daughter of Billy Loomis — one of the killers from the first Scream — Sam left her family after inadvertently revealing that truth to her father. Returning home after years only when she discovers that her sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) had been attacked, Sam is forced to reveal the truth in a surprisingly tense and heartbreaking scene. The sisterly relationship is quickly developed and then broken down, with Tara tearfully ordering her sister out of the room. It’s melodramatic but well-acted and well-written melodrama.

Similarly, the return of characters from the franchises’ history ends up impacting the returning survivors of the original films. Dewey (David Arquette) is the only one still living in town, even though he’s been forced out of the police force. Sydney (Neve Campbell) has found happiness with her family, and Gale (Courtney Cox) has become a national television talk show host. At some point off-screen, Gale and Dewey had a falling out and ended their relationship. Despite this, it’s clear that both characters still greatly care for each other. Gale eventually arrives in town and confronts Dewey, with the pair bitterly recalling their failed relationship and mourning the end of their romance. Although they make peace and affirm how much they care for each other, they end up never speaking again — and Dewey is killed soon after.

RELATED: REVIEW: Scream Brings Bloody Joy Back to the Slasher Genre

Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox in Scream (2022)

The scene is one of the best moments in Scream, with Cox and Arquette’s acting elevating it and adding to the bittersweet nature of the sequence. The pair were married in real life before they eventually divorced but remained professional collaborators and friends. That real-world context gives the conversation an additional edge that both actors mine to great effect. It’s a scene that pulls at the heartstrings even removed from the rest of the series and is a strong tragic moment for longtime fans. Both scenes effectively work unmoored from the rest of the film, adopting a more dramatic tone that the joke and slaughter-heavy rest of the film never quite reaches again.

It’s particularly odd because the Scream films, while always full of talented actors, never leaned as hard into genuine pathos as the latest entry. The emotional beats come out of nowhere and work as their own personal little dramas amidst all the blood-shed. It’s a bizarre but effective bit of filmmaking in the otherwise straightforward horror movie. In fact, it goes a long way towards making those characters increasingly likable, giving the third act actual stakes. That attention to character is lacking with much of the rest of the film, with most of the teens being forgettable archetypes and the ultimate killers having interesting motivation but lacking genuine character. The best scenes in Scream have nothing to do with horror, but they do present a surprisingly human element to the proceeding.

To see the dramatic beats strengthen the film, Scream is now playing in theaters.

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