Scream feels familiar, but it’s unafraid of criticizing its existence while providing commentary on the new wave of horror and toxicity in fandom.
The Scream franchise might be one of the horror genre’s most recognizable and influential horror franchises, unabashedly referencing other genre films and going full meta in its plot analysis. After four movies, all directed by the late Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson (save for Scream 3), 2022’s Scream gives another filmmaking team the opportunity to infuse the long-running franchise with new energy. Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett from a screenplay by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, Scream feels familiar, but it’s unafraid of criticizing its existence (similar to how The Matrix Resurrections did it) while providing commentary on the new wave of horror and toxicity in fandom.
Twenty-five years after the first string of killings in Woodsboro, Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) returns to her hometown after her teenage sister, Tara (Jenna Ortega), is attacked by a new murderer donning the mask of Ghostface. There doesn’t seem to be a reason why Tara would be targeted by the killer, but Sam soon discovers that Ghostface is back because of a dark secret she’s been harboring from her past. Sam goes to Dewey Riley (David Arquette) for help, which also brings Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) back into the action as they fight to stop Ghostface from claiming any more victims.
Even after four movies, Scream — dropping the numeral 5 from its title for reasons that are referenced in the film — continues to be inventive. A big part of what made the first film and its sequels, though perhaps to a lesser extent, so memorable is the whodunit mystery at its center. It was never just about the killings or the reasons behind why the murderers went after so many, but the guessing game that carried the story through to the end. Scream certainly delivers in that respect, with the characters themselves not knowing who to trust as some begin to turn on each other in doubt. In terms of horror, the franchise was never all that scary, and Scream 5 follows in that vein. The killings are serviceable, occasionally gruesome and creative, but not as thrilling as the mystery and suspense that comes with trying to escape being found and stabbed by Ghostface. To that end, the scares are rather underwhelming, but they’re luckily overshadowed by the film’s better qualities.
Every sequel has tried to step up its game and 2022’s Scream is no different, throwing in plenty of meta commentary about old-school slasher films vs. elevated horror and what differentiates them. The new Scream doesn’t leave its fans behind, but it makes sure to speak to a newer audience, one that has grown up with horror films like The Babadook and Hereditary (both of which are referenced in Scream). The film is sharp, especially in its analysis of horror, slicing through the layers of the genre, the Scream franchise itself, and the rules of surviving. But it’s perhaps most scathing in its commentary about obsessing over the first movie in a franchise and how it can lead to fandom toxicity.
This commentary, among other things, is what makes Scream so good. It recognizes its legacy and history without reveling in it, taking shots at its past without being too self-deprecating, delivering a sequel that has stakes and likable new characters. It’s a balancing act the film pulls off incredibly well for the most part, even getting in a few humorous moments about these things. In one particular scene, the musical score by Brian Tyler grows in intensity after every door is opened, only for something to happen when least anticipated. It’s a great play on the audience’s own expectations of when the killer might strike. When Scream starts to lean too heavily into familiar territory, it manages to turn things around. However, it does occasionally feel a bit too repetitive. Specifically, the need to revisit a certain legacy character in a larger capacity, especially in scenes where the moment is somewhat flattened by his presence rather than elevated by it, is unnecessary.
However. the way the original characters are pulled back into the main plot is organic, giving them their due while taking the time to establish the new additions, their connection to each other, and to past Scream movies. The fifth installment provides an update on what Sidney, Dewey, and Gale have been up to in their lives since Scream 4 without having to give the audience an information dump, sticking to the story at hand. And for the record, Campbell, Cox, and Arquette are still great in their roles. Of the new cast, Jenna Ortega (You) and Melissa Barrera (In the Heights) are particularly excellent, believably portraying sisters who care deeply for each other, but who have grown distant over the years. Jack Quaid (The Boys) as Richie is an outsider to Woodsboro and the actor capitalizes on that fact quite a bit.
Sequels are difficult to do well in a way that expands upon the established story while keeping things fresh, but Scream manages to do that for the most part and in a smart way. It brings in new characters who stand apart and maintains the connection to the other films, all while critiquing these very aspects in the same breath. The horror commentary remains top tier, with the fifth installment proving the Scream franchise has still got it.
Scream releases in theaters on the evening of Thursday, January 13. The film is 114 minutes long and is rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout and some sexual references.
- Scream 5 (2022)Release date: Jan 14, 2022
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