This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
tromber’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
This film starts from such a perfect place of classically calibrated fear tactics and built tension. It's done so well that when we cut to the cheesy high school drama it's quite a blow that takes a long time to recover from.
It's really the actors. Neve Campbell is incredible, immediately adding Sidney Prescott into the pantheon of badass women. But everyone else is on a varying spectrum of awful. Matthew Lillard in particular seems like he's in his own movie. And the awfulness of the acting that dominates so many scenes (begun with that second scene) feels like a hostile takeover from the horror of the opening.
The film does recover though. In fits and starts as it develops Sidney and gives us the occasional creepy moment until about two thirds of the way through when it comes fully into focus.
The way the film uses its knowledge of horror films and their tropes to punish us in their subversion is genius, and every reference (other than that distracting cameo) is pitch perfect.
I'll say this. I was so thoroughly convinced that David Arquette was the killer that I got pissed at this film for being so obvious. I really showed my arrogance with this one. The meta element was so genius. The decision to set a horror film in a world where everyone has seen horror movies. But the film wasn't giving out any real suspects. We had the joke suspects and all the male students. Then the film belatedly teases Principal Fonzie as the killer only to kill him off immediately, which set me off because there were still no real suspects and Arquette popped up at all the most perfectly opportune times.
And I realize the cleverness of this misdirect. He has the ever important motive. He was locked in his room during Sidney's second phone call but appeared the second it ended. All his movements were edited beautifully out of sync with the killer. And I ate every morsel I was given. Until the third act. When the killer is still in the house and we realize Arquette definitely no longer is. At which point I was forced to reshuffle the evidence and try to quickly remember where each character was at each time.
Now, setting aside the reveals of who the killer was, and the Arquette misdirect, the climax is spectacular. It has an element missing from so many climaxes, or just from movies in general. It's really messy. Not just in all the blood that spreads and acts like blood, but in the flow and structure of it. It's very human. It stops and starts. One stab isn't a death blow. And the motives are as tenuous as anything which fits the characters, which makes it that much scarier, especially with the Columbine comparisons my mind instantly kicked up. There's time for characters to get lost and found and for the power dynamic to shift again and again. And it ends so satisfyingly with Sidney's turning of the tables and Gale's assist.
There's a sloppiness in the characters and their actors that really slows the movie down, particularly in the second act, but overall this film is incredibly strong, and endlessly clever and crafts another fantastic female lead in Sidney.