Film reviews: Scream | Memoria | Cow

The latest instalment in the long-running Scream franchise has a pleasingly off-kilter vibe, writes Alistair Harkness, and just enough energy to ensure it doesn’t coast along on nostalgia alone

Ghostface returns in Scream PIC: Paramount Pictures via AP
Ghostface returns in Scream PIC: Paramount Pictures via AP

Scream (18) ***

Memoria (U) ***

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Cow (12A) ***

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The Scream franchise has been eating its own tail since the late Wes Craven killed off Drew Barrymore in the opening scenes of the first movie back in 1996, so it’s no surprise that this belated fifth instalment is another cinematic ouroboros. Reaching back to the original, the chomping starts with yet another phone-based deconstruction of the horror genre – this one taking sly pot-shots at so-called “elevated horror” – before re-establishing the rules of the meta-horror series that fizzled out with 2011’s Scream 4. Unlike the recent Matrix Resurrections, this is self-aware enough to acknowledge how rubbish its own sequels were before letting its eye-rolling Gen-Z protagonists land on the film’s real satirical target: toxic fandom and “requel” culture (“Not quite a sequel, not quite a reboot – fans are split on the terminology,” explains a character, helpfully).

Thus we get lots of chat about bringing back legacy characters to justify the return of original stars Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette while ongoing references to the fictional franchise-within-a-franchise Stab movies interrogate how the real monsters might be the ones successful movies create in an age of obsessive fans with too much access to social media. In between all this, the kills are entertainingly bloody, even if the ease with which people die makes you doubt the supposed smarts of characters we’re supposed to be rooting for (25 years on and still no-one thinks to invest in a stab-proof vest).

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Niggles aside, new franchise directors Matt Bettinelli and Olpin-Tyler Gillet (Ready or Not) inject enough energy into proceedings to ensure it doesn’t coast by on nostalgia alone and, among the younger cast, Jack Quaid, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s Mikey Madison and Jasmin Savoy Brown (one of the stars of current TV sensation Yellowjackets, a much smarter 1990s horror throwback) add a pleasingly off-kilter vibe.

Early on in Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Colombian-set Memoria there’s a moment of Spielbergian wonder so perfectly executed it could have been conceived by the man himself. We’re in an urban neighbourhood in Bogotá in the early hours of the morning and, as the camera slowly pushes in between a circle of parked cars, their alarms start going off, shattering the pre-dawn silence with a symphonic light show of flashing indicators and staccato horn blasts. The eerie way the scene plays out suggests some kind of spectral or extra-terrestrial presence and, as the film progresses, it becomes clear this isn’t entirely off the mark.

Jenna Ortega in a scene from Scream PIC: Brownie Harris/Paramount Pictures via AP

Whether consciously or not, Weerasethakul – whose penchant for long takes that linger over inscrutable details tends to untether his films from the rigours of conventional narrative – has created something that plays like a dreamy, slow-cinema remake of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with Tilda Swinton taking on the Richard Dreyfuss role of an empath driven mad by a mysterious signal implanted in her head. The signal in question is an aural thud that only Swinton’s character, Jessica, seems able to hear and even though it’s not the sort of thing that can be sculpted out of mashed potatoes, she sets about recreating it with the help of a sound engineer called Hernán (Juan Pablo Urrego) whose existence is in turn called into question soon after she employs his services.

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Jessica also has an ailing sister in Bogotá and her visits to see her in the hospital coincidentally bring her into contact with a forensic anthropologist (Jeanne Balibar) in the midst of analysing 6,000-year-old human remains recently unearthed on a construction site near the Amazonian jungle. What one has to do with the other is hinted at only abstractly as Jessica drifts towards some kind of resolution involving another man called Hernán (Elkin Díaz) and a sci-fi epiphany in the wilderness that reinforces the Spielberg connection in ways that some may find sublime and others silly.

Marking the documentary debut of Andrea Arnold, Cow sees the Red Road director deliver an impressionistic portrait of a dairy cow on a commercial British farm to give us a bovine-eyed view of the reality of life for an animal low on the food chain.

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Shot over four years, the film adheres to the standard nature doc template by identifying a single animal as the “star”, but Arnold subverts this approach immediately by filming her chosen subject, Luma, in her own harsh style. There are no majestic shots of pastoral splendour here, though there are plenty of unmistakable Arnold flourishes. A diegetic soundtrack of melancholic club hits, for instance, adds a weird council estate bleakness to the industrial farm milieu – and the sex is typically brutal too, with Arnold managing to make the sight of Luma being stalked and mounted by a bull seem like the joyless copping-off of the last two punters in small town British nightclub at the end of a particularly depressing night out.

Tilda Swinton in Memoria PIC: Sandro Kopp

It’s a key scene and Arnold uses it to compound’s Luma’s miserable lot in life by juxtaposing it with a tongue-in-cheek shot of bonfire night fireworks swiftly followed by a cut to an ultrasound informing us that Luma has been impregnated for a sixth time. The indifferent look on Luma’s face is the same grin-and-bear-it grimace found on the faces of female characters across decades’ worth of British social realist cinema. A poor cow indeed.

All films on general release from 14 January

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