Hollywood has been besieged with reboot/remake mania in the last decade plus, and the horror genre has certainly not been immune. Recent years has seen the Evil Dead, Halloween, Blair Witch and Candyman franchises (among many others) undergo major facelifts or just outright re-imaginings with varying degrees of success…..and Scream is no different. The sequels, MTV series and (half-hearted) 2011 reboot of the Wes Craven/Kevin Williamson masterpiece seemed to diminish the legacy with each successive entry…..and unfortunately Scream (2022) mostly follows that path.
Not that the attempt by directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (the duo behind Ready or Not) was not noble….it’s certainly an ambitious effort. In the end, however, there’s only so much a film entry in a wildly popular franchise can be self-referential (and even self-deprecating) in its declaration of being a “re-quel” (the current term for that reboot/sequel hybrid) before it seemingly falls into the actual stereotypes of that label. And not just for the irony, either……
Scream (2022), which is how this film will be referred rather than “Scream 5” (which is another running joke in the plot for the Scream/Stab lineage), starts out in strikingly familiar territory. A not-so-random attack on a young girl at home by the new Ghostface forces the community of Woodsboro, CA, to once again confront its serial-killing albatross. Names and faces have changed in 25 years, of course, however not enough to set this reign of terror apart from the others. No spoilers in this review, but I will say that pretty much every character from the original film is either present or represented in some way with this cast. The present crop of high-schoolers are fresh faces, but many are unknowingly haunted by the sins of their respective families. Victims of all ages and audience-recognition are either attacked or outright killed as our youngsters, with the aid of returning characters Dewey (David Arquette), Gail (Courtney Cox) and Sydney (Neve Campbell), must figure out the pattern and motives for these kills in order to stop them. And let’s not forget the biggest mystery…..who is Ghostface this time?
I’ll start with what I like about Scream (2022), because there actually is a lot. To the younger crowd both on the screen and in the audience, the original film is their version of Halloween: the point in their youth that they discover what a horror movie is and how they should feel about it. Almost like a measuring stick for the rest of the genre, past and present. This idea is hammered home consistently throughout the story, almost like a running gag. Is The Babadook better than Friday the 13th? To the younger crowd it is, as it represents the “new horror” they grew up on. The older crowd, of course, prefers the gory slasher flicks with little or no plot, and certainly no psychological aspect. Somewhere in the middle, perhaps at the birth of Scream/Stab in 1996, lies the common ground. The dialogue in this film is superb in that regard, loudly exclaiming the contrast between the old-school fans (Halloween) and the “newer” ones (Scream).
The kills in Scream (2022) are better than in previous films in the franchise, with the added gore and slow-moving and explicit violence serving to move the plot along with a purpose (unlike the last Halloween movies, where it’s just unnecessarily gratuitous.) With each kill, the audience (at least in my theater) was forced to react in a much-more visceral and emotional way than I have seen in a horror film in quite some time. Although the characters, especially the main non-legacy ones, are not developed in any real way, their inevitable confrontation with Ghostface still makes you care about them when the chips are down. This is a cool feat by Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett, along with screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick.
The problem sets in, however, when you realize that that settings and especially the character archetypes are basically the same as the original film. Again, in this way, it represents a viewing of a real-time reenactment of the fictitious Stab movie rather than the actual Scream. Sure the fresh-faced cast includes several actors that are currently hot with the younger crowd (Don’t Breathe’s Dylan Minnette and In The Heights’ Melissa Barrera among others), but it’s the legacy characters that carry this film to its conclusion (if there could even be one.) The acting is pretty good, though I became increasingly convinced that Jack Quaid was auditioning for a Joshua Jackson biopic at times. The teens serve their purpose, and the trio of original characters force them to realize the gravity of their situation. When the big self-aware discussion of the “re-quel” comes around, however, things go off the rails a bit. It’s okay to poke fun at yourself when it’s called upon, even in the horror genre. But if there really isn’t a pay off other than the anticipated and retread ending after 90 minutes of discussion about breaking this mold, than what you have is basically The Jay & Silent Bob Reboot with a body count. By now we’re all aware that there are “rules” for a horror movie, and now there are “rules” for the re-quel. But when those rules are a known formula, and that formula is followed to a tee, then what you have is fan service without a hint of unintentional satire. Jay and Silent Bob were honest with where they were going, at least.
I say all this, but will admit the most important reason we eagerly await the ending, the BIG un-masking, will always provide a pure adrenaline rush. That’s the point of a twist, right? Again, no spoilers here…..but as you’re left to re-wrap the ball of twine that was just laid at your feet more questions than answers seem to arise. How is this different from its predecessors? To me, if you mixed all of the Scream movies up to this point in a blender and splashed in a dash of The Rise of Skywalker (and yes the Star Wars movies are referenced here once again), what you are left with is Scream (2022).
Understandably the main point for the producers of Scream (2022) is to force us all to recall what we loved about the franchise in the first place, while at the same time laying the groundwork for future films. The “re-quel” strategy calls for a new cast, a legacy cast to bridge the gap, and plenty of fan service. Scream (2022) achieves this for sure, but is it enough to carry the franchise and its fans into a new era of Ghostface? My instinct says no, but in reality they will have plenty of opportunities in the future to change my mind.
2 ½ stars out of 5