Starring: Melissa Barrera (In the Heights), Mason Gooding (Booksmart), Mikey Madison (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Dylan Minnette (13 Reasons Why), Jenny Ortega (Insidious: Chapter 2), Jack Quaid (The Boys), Marley Shelton (Sin City), Jasmin Savoy Brown (Yellowjackets), Sonia Ammar, Courtney Cox (Cougar Town), David Arquette (Never Been Kissed), Neve Campbell (Skyscraper)
Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett (Ready or Not)
Writers: James Vanderbilt (The Amazing Spider-Man) & Guy Busick (Ready or Not)
Runtime: 1 hour 54 minutes
Release Date: 14th January (US, UK)
Synopsis: Ten years after the last series of murders in Woodsboro, a new killer dons the mask of Ghostface and terrorises the teen relatives of those involved in the previous killings, revealing untold secrets about the legacy of Ghostface and once again drawing back the original survivors to the cursed town.
As much as they might make light of the trends and fads of the horror genre, the Scream franchise itself has succumb to plenty of them over the years. The original film was an instant classic to many and helped define what the genre was heading into the new millennium, whilst Scream 2 helped buck the trend of the inferior sequel by being pretty good in its own right. After that though, the third entry completely fell apart and just became the cliché-ridden mess the series was meant to satirise, and whilst the belated fourth instalment brought plenty of fresh ideas to the table, the execution was a little muddled and it ultimately didn’t do well enough to keep the franchise alive. Scream 4 also sadly ended up being the last directorial effort of horror legend Wes Craven, and with his passing it finally seemed like we wouldn’t see the streets of Woodsboro again.
However, no intellectual property stays dead in the current Hollywood landscape, and so fittingly the series’ reins have been handed over to a new generation of horror filmmakers. The fifth entry, simply titled Scream just to confuse you (and yes, of course they make light of this in the movie itself), is from its opening moments clearly made by people who love these movies but have enough distance to twist the formula. The result is quite possibly the best entry since the original, bringing the franchise back to its roots whilst still finding a way to say something new about the current state of horror.
In many aspects, the new film is essentially a do-over of Scream 4: there’s another Ghostface killer on the loose in Woodsboro, and a new generation of teens try to solve the mystery whilst the original trio are drawn back in to assist. That said, it uses that same framework to make something tonally and thematically quite different and the comparisons quickly dry up as the story goes down its own path. As usual, the film uses its plot as a meta-commentary on whatever the tropes of Hollywood filmmaking are at that moment, and this Scream bluntly takes aim at what it dubs “requels” (films that function as remakes/reboots of a franchise whilst still taking place within the same continuity). In this regard, the film actually does a better job of being a “requel” than many sincere examples of them, packing in plenty of fan service but ultimately favouring new ideas that expand upon the themes of the previous films.
What ultimately pushes the film over the line from endearing tribute act into its own mature beast is how it expands its critique from the films themselves to the wider culture surrounding the genre. From calling out the snide elitism of the term “elevated horror” to plenty of digs at toxic fandom, this truly does feel like a Scream for 2022 that manages to stay on topic, as opposed to Scream 4’s last-minute swerve into a critique of internet celebrity culture mostly removed from horror tropes. As usual, it’s hard to get into detail without spoiling the film’s best surprises, but be assured there is intelligence and love put into every moment; you can really tell this was made by the same team behind Ready or Not. That said, this is far from a perfect film, but most of its issues are ones the franchise has had since the beginning. The dialogue can be incredibly on-the-nose especially in moments of foreshadowing, there are lapses in logic that go beyond parody and into just bad writing, and there are story threads that ultimately feel unresolved. Again, can’t say too much, but one major example is there’s a character who is having visions that suggest a fractured psyche, and whilst it plays into the story thematically, it feels a step too far in an otherwise grounded story and it’s never really resolved; its point was perfectly made without hammering home with a cliché like that.
One major improvement over the fourth instalment here is whilst that film attempted to set up a fresh batch of teen victims but ultimately ended up just focusing back on Sidney, Dewey and Gale, the new Scream is definitively about its new cast whilst the legacy heroes are firmly in supporting roles. Melissa Barrera takes the lead as Sam Carpenter and gives a compelling and endearing performance, even if the character on the page is a little lacking; there’s a lot of talk about her being a reckless troublemaker in her past, but that rarely comes across on-screen. Her greatest strength comes from her tumultuous relationship with Jenny Ortega as her sister, as the pair attempt to reconcile their disrupted childhood whilst fending off the machinations of the killer. Much of the rest of the supporting cast fill out the Scream archetypes but with their own little tweaks. Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown as especially fun as twins Chad and Mindy, with Brown filling in for the Randy Meeks film expert role with exuberant aplomb, whilst Jack Quaid as Sam’s boyfriend Richie brings much of the same grounded “outsider flabbergasted by exceptional events going on around me” energy that’s made him so endearing on The Boys.
In terms of the familiar faces, David Arquette gets the most to do as Dewey Riley filling in as the reluctant mentor type often found in these legacy movies, and he does a solid job playing a more downtrodden and sloppy version of his usually straight-laced character. Neve Campbell is as pitch perfect as ever as Sidney Prescott, once again showing herself to be an all-time great final girl, but it’s also a relief to see her take a step back and avoid being thrust into the spotlight to the detriment of its main cast. Unfortunately, Courtney Cox’s Gale Weathers comes out of this one a bit underserved. She gets one admittedly solid emotional scene reuniting with Arquette, but afterwards the film finds little for her to do but be someone for Campbell to talk to and exchange “I’m getting too old for this shit” gags with. It’s far from a complete disservice, and it’s honestly great to see how Weathers has evolved from her tabloid days into a more mature and respectful reporter, but I wish the writers could have given her a bit more to do than be a soundboard.
In terms of actual frights, the Scream movies are rarely that creative; it finds a hell of a lot of different ways to stab someone, but it’s still just stabbing no matter how you cut it. This new entry doesn’t mess with that formula too much, but there are some standout sequences where they ratchet up the tension and do Wes Craven proud. These include a frantic race against the clock as Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton) as rushes home when Ghostface threatens to kill her son (Dylan Minnette), and a genuinely haunting and nail-biting sequence as Tara gruesomely winces through her injuries whilst trying to escape a hospital wing. The gore is perhaps not as over-the-top as in other entries but the blood certainly looks thicker, and the kills themselves have a little more imagination to them even if using familiar tools.
On an aesthetic level, the filmmakers have done a fantastic job of emulating the look of the old films whilst still giving it a modern lens, with certain familiar locales recreated so perfectly and yet shot in a way that you may not even realise you’re somewhere you’ve been before until it’s too late. Brian Tyler takes over scoring duties from franchise mainstay Marco Beltrami and he does a strong job making his own foreboding tracks whilst working in familiar cues to good effect, and the soundtrack smartly picks a lot of modern songs that have a retro feel to evoke the late 90s setting of the first film. Also, it has probably the most inventive use of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand” in the whole series, hands down.
2022’s Scream may cut deep into the issues with legacy reboots, but it ends up being a solid example of how to do one right; it’d honestly make a great double feature with The Matrix Resurrections of all things. It’s perhaps a little too derivative to match the originality of its main inspiration, but rivals Scream 2 for second place and stands confidently above the third and fourth. Whether new and younger audiences who may not have experienced the original will connect with it is unclear (that’s honestly what may have doomed Scream 4 after such a long gap), but franchise fans should find it a satisfying watch unless they themselves are a toxic fan who doesn’t like how the movie shines a mirror on them. There’s surprisingly not any other horror fare out compared to the average January so it’s not like you have a choice, but if you’re looking to see a scary movie, you can’t go too wrong with the new Scream.
I mean, seriously though: why not call it Scream 5? Yes, I get it, it’s a meta joke the movie itself points out as an annoying trend, but now it’s just perpetuating…OK, I’ll shut up now.
FINAL VERDICT: 8/10