Scream ★★★★½

Injecting life into a moribund subgenre of horror, Wes Craven's "Scream" both celebrated and revitalized slasher films upon its release in 1996. A post-modern, genre-referential chiller, the film profited on its comedic lilt, fresh-faced cast, and violence. Nearly twenty years later, the film still works and works very well. Its novelty may have worn off, but its core mystery, committed production, and ability to thrill make "Scream" an outstanding piece of horror.

Kevin Williamson's screenplay is built around the teenage citizens of Woodsboro, an idyllic hamlet rocked by a series of violent murders. As the body count rises, Neve Campbell's Sidney tries to piece together the killer's identity while trying to avoid her own demise.

It is all standard narrative stuff for a horror film, but Williamson creates a crackling mystery surrounded by genre references and a knowing deconstruction of the slasher subgenre. The references and deconstruction add a fun gloss to the story, but the film's mystery and its exploration of traditional moral and character-related threads are what drive the film today. Sex, gender politics, and death power the film's compelling narrative machine, and Williamson easily blends these classic horror themes with the light touch that comes from celebrating the horror genre.

Using Williamson's script, Craven builds something as effective as any of the director's previous horror outings. The film is well-assembled and polished. Craven's cameras stalk gracefully, subtly canting angles or overseeing entire pieces of cinematic geography. The production is sleek and clean, juxtaposing characters bathed in blood and depravity. Music, editing, and forward motion are used with vigor, resulting in an film the moves quickly and thrillingly.

Craven's cast, most members of which were plucked from 1990s TV, is game, ably creating characters who excel under requirements of the genre. The characters are quick-witted, and their actors instill them with an appropriate energy. The audience is given players to root for or root against with ease.

"Scream" transcends the things that made it stand-out upon its release and succeeds, today, based on its classic elements. The film's handsome production, robust jolts, and authentically horrific heart, along with its smart and recognizable subtext, are what make it click. Its wit and winky love of what has come before it add pop, but "Scream" excels because of its harrowing and well-constructed center.

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