The new “Scream” has the same title as the original 1996 Wes Craven horror classic but is actually the fifth entry in the series.
This being a franchise that is famous for reflexive self-awareness, to the point where the characters actively discuss the film they’re in, we even get to hear an onscreen explanation why this film is simply called “Scream” and not the obvious “Scream 5: The Awakening” or “Scream Forever.”
Since the movie supposedly justifies its potentially confusing title, I’ll just refer to it as “Scream” 2022. It’s worth noting that this enjoyable but unnecessary sequel openly discusses everything that is wrong with it, as though the screenwriters were taking a preemptive strike against critics.
It would have been better if, rather than making excuses for everything here that is tired and rote, the film had, you know, just eliminated all the stale elements and been so much wilder.
It stars Melissa Barrera (of “In the Heights”) as Sam Carpenter, whose traumatic childhood is revisited upon learning her younger sister has been stabbed multiple times. Considering that the victim lives in Woodsboro and the crime was committed by someone wearing a “Ghostface” mask and costume, it’s clear the events of the prior movies (and the movies-within-the-movies, deemed the “Stab” series) are about to reoccur.
The only way to face the masked enemy is to follow The Rules of surviving a horror film (which are updated to mention the contemporary likes of “The Babadook” and “Hereditary”) and to reunite the surviving cast members of the first film.
Since we lost Wes Craven in 2015, the filmmakers are now Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, the team who made the not-great cult favorite “Ready Or Not” (2019). The screenplay was co-authored by Guy Busick and James Vanderbilt, the latter writer who adapted “Zodiac” for David Fincher, though his work here sometimes approaches his see-how-clever-I-am C-level “Basic” (2003).
While there are sequences here that work well, this is mostly a collection of teen slasher movie greatest hits.
Scream, 2022: Poster variants created by Creepy Duck Design. pic.twitter.com/BS6w1QgkNA
— Fear Catalogue (@FearCatalogue) January 13, 2022
The results may be occasionally surprising and shockingly violent, I wish it were more of the former and less of the latter, as it could have used a lot more unexpected plot turns. By the time we get to the third act, there’s too much of “The Talking Killer” cliché, as characters stand around and discuss their plot motivations.
Here’s the thing that “Scream” 2022 doesn’t quite get: there’s a big difference between a movie that is truly clever, versus a movie like this, which can’t stop talking about how clever it is. Referencing all the forced tropes, expected meta commentary and constant yammering about franchise requirements doesn’t give the movie a Get Out of Jail Free card.
Some of the self-aware chatter is funny, but much of it is as tired as anything in “The Matrix Resurrections.”
The tributes to the late Wes Craven are nice, until they get too on the nose. Having the film end with “For Wes” is a sweet touch but having a character who is killed, whose name is Wes, given a toast where a roomful of teens toast “To Wes,” is too much. Likewise, the heavy-handed in-jokes (Hey, that’s Elm St.! Hey, that kid’s last name is Carpenter!).
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Some of the performances from the younger cast are weak, though leave it to David Arquette to walk away with this one. Courtney Cox has some emotionally charged moments, but it feels like the movie needed more of this.
As for Neve Campbell, she struts through this like the genre royalty that she is, as the characters fawn over here as much as anyone in the audience likely will. The reunion of the first “Scream” cast is given slightly more to do than the returning cast members in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.”
If “Scream” 2022 belongs in any category, is simply Nostalgia, as it follows the pattern of the first film and has similar characters and events, that mirror what has already happened in earlier installments.
Perhaps we’re supposed to just accept this, since a character literally gives a living room speech about exactly the kind of fan-baiting reboot effort this is. Being meta shouldn’t mean discussing the things that the movie you’re watching shouldn’t be permitted to get away with.
I liked a lot of “Scream” 2022 but this franchise peaked after one movie. There are scenes that excite, like the second act showdown in a hospital, the film’s strongest set piece. I’m unsure if the film’s retro approach to unleash buckets of fake blood and embrace the genre’s tendency for gore was a wise approach.
A number of on-screen murders make me flinch, though that’s not the same as being scary. There’s a lot of stabby-stabby, slicey-dicey (or, as the late, great movie Denver movie critic Reggie McDaniel used to say, “Slasher Basher!”) but it all feels uneven and falls short of a home run.
I greatly prefer “Scream 2” (1997) over this, even if that film fell apart in the end. “Scream 3” (2000) was the series low point, though “Scream 4,” following a brilliant pre-title sequence, also wallowed in routine, feeling equally worn out and forced.
The original, however, still hits hard and succeeds as both an aggressive teen horror film and a violent comedy about horror films.
Wes Craven’s “Scream” (1996) begins with only the opening title and immediately into the famous prolog, in which Drew Barrymore’s Casey is terrorized by a “wrong number” who won’t leave her alone.
Watching it today, removed from dozens of parodies and how iconic the sequence is, its startling to see how powerful it is. Barrymore is playing it real, a nice young girl who is scared mercilessly, as even the self-reflexive touches of humor don’t soften how sadistic the set piece is and how nasty the final reveal is.
Craven harkens back to his early disreputable cult classics. It’s so good, in fact, that “Scream” never tops its harrowing opening, one of Craven’s best directed and still-most shocking sequences.
While not every character stands out, the pacing is tight, and the performances form the ensemble cast are all sharp. “Scream” is smart enough to know that Skeet Ulrich not only resembles Johnny Depp but that he should even enter the movie like Johnny Depp did in “A Nightmare on Elm St.”
Craven’s own cameo is inspired and wisely goes by too fast to fully call attention to itself. Even the soundtrack is well crafted – use of “Red Right Hand” by Nick Cave and the Seeds is inspired.
Playing franchise favorite Sidney Prescott, Neve Campbell carries it, but Courtney Cox’s performance, both nasty and feisty, is what grounds it. Henry Winkler slyly plays the high school principal, Rose McGowan, decades before she energized the #metoo movement, is a natural scene stealer.
This was made back when even Matthew Lillard and Jamie Kennedy’s over-acting was put to good use.
Kevin Williamson’s screenplay creates scores of red herrings and opportunities for the actors to look guilty enough to instill doubt. It’s a good mystery, with even the subplot involving Cotton Weary (an early turn from Liev Schreiber) adding weight to Prescott’s personal baggage.
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It acknowledged the approaching millennium and the fears of uncertainty it exuded. Cox’s Gail Weathers is on “Top Story,” back when “Hard Copy” and “A Current Affair” were pre-Internet sources of gossip-infused “news” sources.
“Scream” created a series of self-satisfied horror films that tripped over themselves trying to be “The Next Scream,” as well as retro-slasher films that didn’t care whatsoever that they were rehashing stale material (I’m looking at you “I Know What You did last Summer”).
Then there’s the “Scary Movie” parody sequels (from the same studio, no less), the MTV series (in its third season) and now this reboot. It also inspired the obnoxious trend of teen horror films having its actors pictured on the poster, all standing next to one another, overstuffing the one-sheet long before Marvel overplayed this practice much later.
Williamson makes some missteps: McGowan’s final scene is degrading, especially for a film that aims to subvert sexism and misogyny in horror films. The inclusion of the Richard Gere line was tacky in 1996 and still lands with a thud. “Scream” is overwritten, with too much running around in the third act, when it would have been wise to get to the final confrontation sooner.
Once we get a clear look at the Ghost Face mask, the masked killer is nowhere near as scary as he is over the phone (major credit goes to Roger Jackson for his vocal performance).
To Williamson’s credit, the Leopold and Loeb-inspired reveal is unsettling, with the multiple stabbings remarkably brutal. Craven was clearly removed from the uncharacteristic, woefully uneven but fascinating “Vampire in Brooklyn” (1995) when he bounced back with this.
Prescott is dealing with sexual pressure from her boyfriend and the shame of her mother being accused of having multiple lovers before she was brutally murdered. Some of this comes full circle into the final catharsis but, by the final moments, the film itself becomes too jokey for a real character arch to stick (the sequels would tackle Sidney’s ongoing narrative, though half-heartedly, as she’s firmly the franchise Scream Queen). Still, the comedy and horror mostly work, with the oft-quoted scene of Jamie Kennedy’s video store clerk egghead going over “The Rules” still funny.
“Scream,” rather bizarrely, opened on Christmas Day 1996 and had a muted first weekend. Surprisingly, word of mouth kicked in, it hung around the box office top ten for weeks and was still playing in most theaters by the following summer.
In fact, one of the final lines of “Scream” 2022 has a reporter noting that the events we’ve just witnessed mirrored what occurred nearly 25-years ago to the day. We’ve come full circle and, five movies in, this franchise is still long in the tooth and offers little beyond restating what was already said the first time, but there’s (very) bloody fun to be had.
For those keeping a (body)count, here’s my rating of the series, on a scale of 1-5 stars:
- Scream (1996) Three Stars
- Scream 2 (1997) Three Stars
- Scream 3 (2000) One and a Half Stars
- Scream 4 (2011) Two Stars
- Scream (2022) Two and a Half Stars