It’s Always Someone You Know
There’s no denying it, Wes Craven’s Scream redefined teen horror in the mid to late 1990s with its fresh spin on the slasher genre. Taking its cues from the Friday the 13th series, Scream (which we review here) stood out due to its cleverness and wit, as well as its metatextual commentary on the slasher genre itself. The subsequent sequels, Scream 2 (1997), Scream 3 (2000), and Scream 4 (2011) — all directed by the Master of Horror, Craven — were a bit of a mixed bag, hitting and missing in equal measure. Granted, the fourth entry is surprisingly good and comes in at a close second in terms of creativity and scares. With Wes’s passing in 2015, Scream (informally known as Scream 5) works as a relaunch/ follow-up (referred to here as a requel) and is the first in the franchise not to be helmed by Craven. The film, however, is dedicated to ‘Wes.’
Serving as a soft reboot, Scream ’22 pretty much holds a mirror to the original film, mixing ‘legacy characters’ with a fresh new cast — think Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Similar to the way Scream 1 to 4 explored issues around movie violence and the impacts of social media, Scream 5 aims to deconstruct conventions of sequels and remakes, which makes for interesting viewing. There’s some sly, knowing discussion throughout, the film tackling real-world culture somewhat cleverly. However, the meta slasher whodunnit winds up being too predictable and generic overall, following the ’96 film almost beat for beat. And this feels like a missed opportunity, as some of the commentaries on social/ cultural trends and movie fandom could have really packed a harder punch if explored deeper; the perfect example is an excellent scene where we see footage of a fictional film, Stab 8, on a YouTube channel. Still, this is a great new entry in the Scream saga; it’s bloody, funny, and filled with plenty of effective scares, fittingly introducing a new generation of viewers to the knife-wielding Ghostface. If anything, Scream 5 proves that this slasher franchise isn’t dead yet.
Written by James Vanderbilt, Zodiac (2007), and Guy Busick, Ready or Not (2019), and based on characters created by Kevin Williamson, Scream ’22 takes us back to the fictional small town of Woodsboro, California, twenty-five years after the original grizzly Ghostface murders. Just like the ’96 movie, Scream 5 opens with teenager Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega), who’s chilling at home alone one night. Her evening gets interesting when she receives a call from a stranger, who proceeds to ask her what her ‘favorite scary movie’ is, to which she answers, The Babadook, claiming that she’s more into ‘elevated horror’ — a sly observation on how the horror landscape has changed over the last couple of decades or so. Alas, the mystery caller winds up being someone dressed in a Ghostface outfit (akin to the killer from the Stab franchise), who ends up brutally attacking Tara and sending her to the ICU. This intro excellently mirrors the ’96 movie’s intense and violent signature opening.
News of this break-in and vicious assault quickly makes its way to Tara’s estranged sister, Sam (Melissa Barrera), who just so happens to be harboring a ton of spoiler-y family secrets that eventually come to light after she returns to Woodsboro with her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid). As an investigation into the attack gets underway, all of Tara’s friends become suspects, including her BFF Amber (Mikey Madison), twins Chad (Mason Gooding) and Mindy (Jasmine Savoy Brown), the sheriff’s son Wes (Dylan Minnette), and Chad’s girlfriend Liv (Sonia Ben Ammar). But before Tara is even released from the hospital, good ‘ol Ghostface strikes again, compelling Sam to contact the only guy she believes can help her figure out who’s behind the mask, the grizzled, now-retired ex-deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette, who’s in top form here), who’s still in town and has definitely seen better days. Although hesitant at first, Dewey decides to assist, texting his old flame Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) — now a well-known New York morning show host — to warn her of the threat; he also phones friend and survivor, former ‘final girl’ Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who’s married with children. And just like that, the old trio are back in town to de-mask another Ghostface killer and show a new generation how it’s done.
What follows is some standard yet generally fun slasher fare, with the killer’s identity pretty obvious before that crucial third-act reveal — at this point, these characters must surely know that the murderer is one of their own. It’s also a little absurd that most of the fresh faces are linked to characters from the past — the twins are related to Jamie Kennedy’s Randy Meeks, while Dylan Minnette plays the son of Sheriff Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton) from Scream 4; these contrivances make certain parts of the narrative feel somewhat forced. Nonetheless, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, Ready or Not (2019), carve up enough bloody, nicely crafted set pieces to leave their mark — there’s an attack in a hospital that gives off early John Carpenter vibes and a gruesome final act that really evokes the ’96 picture. As one would expect, there are Easter Eggs from the series at large — Nick Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand’ gets another spin — as well as nods to other influential horror films; my favorite is a delicious homage to the iconic shower scene from 1966’s Psycho.
Fortunately, the entire ensemble in Scream do a wonderful job of pumping new blood into these fresh and classic characters. Melissa Barrera, In the Heights (2021), steps into the spotlight with confidence as our new protagonist Sam, proving that she can scream just as well as she can sing. The same can be said about Jenna Ortega, X (2022), who Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett were wise to keep around for subsequent chapters, Ortega bringing a playful edge to the role of the youngest of the Carpenter sisters (and that surname is no accident either). Apart from providing that nostalgia hit, the legacy cast are great, too, even if the filmmakers constantly remind us that this isn’t their story — granted, Campbell and Cox still get all the best lines. The standout, however, is David Arquette, who’s given more of a dramatic role this time around, delivering a genuine portrait of a guy who’s been through this shit several times before and showing how it’s worn him down.
Given everything it’s trying to do, Scream (or Scream 5 if you wanna get technical) never forgets that it’s a horror/ slasher film, and it delivers in this regard. I’d probably rank this one as the third-best entry in the series overall; a pretty decent accomplishment given the films proceeding it. With a spunky new cast and eager, capable filmmakers taking the reins, I’d like to think that the series’ torch or knife is in good hands. It doesn’t break the ‘rules,’ but Scream slays. Give it a stab!
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Dan Cachia (Mr. Movie)
Scream is released through Paramount Pictures Australia