The Scream reboot/sequel (“requel” sounds like something you’d mix into your morning coffee) hearkens back to the original film in more than just name. This fifth installment in the slasher franchise is quite self-conscious of the dark legacy left behind by Billy Loomis and Stu Macher. The film invokes the first one in its very plot, as the latest iteration of Ghostface appears to be targeting relatives of classic Woodsboro characters. This is all extremely apropos, because the new Scream also proves the best entry in the series since the 1996 original.
2022’s Scream is the darkest in tone to date. Ghostface’s kills here are the most savage ones screened in the franchise’s twenty-five-year history (the repeated, rapid-fire knife-strikes reminded me of the stabbings often dramatized on American Horror Story). At the same time, the film is the series’ least comedic entry. This is not to say that it is devoid of laughs, only that the humor is dialed down and naturally integrated. There are no over-the-top gags or obtrusive appearances (like Jay and Silent Bob stumbling onto the scene in Scream 3).
Scream transformed the genre in the late 20th Century with its knowing appropriation and skewering of horror film conventions, and the new release continues the “meta” tradition. There is a lot of discussion of so-called “elevated” horror, including some clever reference to The Babadook. The film seems more concerned, though, with bouncing off of the in-universe Stab franchise than actual horror cinema. At least in a first viewing, the new Scream offers few of the Easter eggs (e.g. the suggestively-sweatered janitor “Fred” in the original) that supply especial visual treat for genre fans.
Of course, the film brings back its three “legacy” characters (another prominent figure from the original makes more surprising return, but this appearance might have benefited from the de-aging technology employed in The Irishman). Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott is now married with children, and serves as a motherly mentor to Woodsboro’s current most obvious candidate for final girl status. Gale Weathers is still a popular media personality, but her brash character gets toned down considerably here (the smartass in me wants to say this was because the filmmakers were worried Courtney Cox wouldn’t be able to emote through such plasticized mask). And David Arquette’s Dewey Riley has shed the fresh-faced doofiness at last and now sports the look of a grizzled ex-sheriff (dubbed a “shitty Sam Elliott” in one of the film’s best throwaway lines). These older characters come across as genuinely world-weary, not merely unenthused by the prospect of being involved in yet another town stab-a-thon. Their past run-ins with Ghostface have left them both physically scarred and emotionally exhausted.
To the film’s credit, Sidney, Gale, and Dewey are drawn back into the mix in an organic way (i.e. not immediately–Sidney herself doesn’t show up onto the scene until midway through the movie). This gives directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin the time to establish the new characters, and the investment in the younger cast definitely pays off. Anyone who has seen the previous work of Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega won’t be surprised that the actresses shine here as estranged half-sisters Sam and Tara Carpenter. Jack Quaid also gives a strong performance as Sam’s boyfriend Richie, as does Jasmin Savoy Brown as Randy Meeks’s genre-savvy niece Mindy.
Via the characters’ discussion of the Stab franchise, the film rightfully points out the real secret of the successful Scream formula: not all the dash and slash but rather the time-honored whodunit element, the mystery of the killer’s identity hidden behind mask and robe. When it comes to possible suspects, the new Scream casts a wide net; the new cast members are also quick to point the finger at one another. Personally, my biggest disappointment is that I pegged the killer (or killers–don’t want to spoil anything here!) early on. Perhaps I’ve watched too many of these films too many times, or maybe I was just clued in because the film utilizes a plot point that echoes a certain standout slasher novel from 2021. I also regret to write that the film suffers from the same Suddenly Psycho syndrome that plagues the entire franchise, where the killer(s?) finally drop the facade and turn to manic ranting about their motivations. Just once I wish the unmasked Ghostface would take the laconic approach and simply state, “I did it because I enjoy killing.”
The film’s extended climax brings the franchise full circle in an overt and spectacularly violent manner, making loud callback to the original. This makes for a very satisfying ending, in terms of the plot of this individual effort and the series overall, as the emotional arcs of the legacy characters are brought to a moving conclusion. Like ex-boxing champs, big box-office horror franchises tend to make a few too many comebacks, but here’s hoping this is it for this particular series. 2022’s Scream does a fine job of honoring the late Wes Craven’s vision while also furnishing fresh thrills, so I can think of no better moment to leave Woodsboro be and let Ghostface fade away into slasher lore.