Scream 5 | 2022 | rated R | starring Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jack Quaid, Dylan Minette, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mikey Madison, David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Marley Shelton | directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett | 1 hr 54 mins |
A decade after the last appearance of a horror movie-inspired Ghostface killer, the town of Woodsboro is again rocked by a violent attack from a knife-wielding maniac armed with movie trivia. This time the victim, Tara (Jenna Ortega), survives, prompting her older sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) to return home, facing down a secret from her past and calling on the help of former sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) to help a new generation navigate the rules of Stab movies, Reboots, Requels and horror in general to survive the slaughter.
As one of the characters in the 5th installment of Scream points out, the problem with these movies is they have no Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees to tie together a series so they constantly need to come up with new killers and new motives. Maybe that demand is what’s kept this series alive for 25 years. Yet, as this movie acknowledges, Scream films have a pretty tried and true formula themselves, for a series that solidified the trope of the boyfriend as the killer and a mystery where the killer has to be in your group of friends, with each progressing sequel running the risk of the unpredictable becoming the predictable. One of the most fun things about 2022’s Scream is watching directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett and writer James Vanderbilt visibly working through all of these tropes, rules and restraints to contort them into something fresh over the course of the movie. While this sequel has a new director (dedicated to the late Wes Craven), writer (Kevin Williamson is given a Dawson’s Creek nod) and studio (Harvey Weinstein’s Dimension is dead and gone, for obvious reasons), it – unlike the swath of recent reboots and “requels” as of late – feels like it’s made by people who actually care about these movies. Against all odds Scream 2022 still works, as a slasher movie, as a Scream sequel, as a commentary on Hollywood reboots and as a satire of overzealous internet fandom.
Despite a new crew behind the scenes, Scream 2022 is more of a Scream movie than The Matrix Resurrections was a Matrix movie, Ghostbusters: Afterlife was a Ghostbusters movie and Halloween Kills was a Halloween movie. Olpin and Gillett (of the rare original mid-budget film Ready or Not) have put together something that fits right into the style Wes Craven established for the series, right down to the smallest details. It’s full of Easter Eggs, homages to Craven and throw back references to the original films without shining a spotlight on them the way nostalgia bait films usually do. Scream is less about Member Berry nostalgia then it does require a keen eye peeled and a sharp memory for all things Scream to pick up. It’s crowd pleasing without being slavish to fan service. I particularly liked a stylish kill set against series theme song “Red Right Hand”. They know what works about these movies and what to keep (ample horror name-drops, rules and a blend of meta comedy and gruesome kills), what works but needs to be updated (with a particularly good use of the legacy characters) and what doesn’t work so well, but still needs to get in there because, hey, that’s Scream (cheesy puns and one-liners).
Where Scream 4 updated the slasher movie for the smartphone generation and commented on straight remakes, Scream 5 tackles the mutated strain of remakes that has forced to evolved based on the absolute minimum level of effort Hollywood can put out and what an audience will accept. A lack of originality, mixed with the need to jump-start safe, name-recognized series forming what I’ve been calling reboots and this movie terms “requels” – remakes, posing as sequels with the goal of jumpstarting a new series. Scream is a wonderful return for people, like myself, who felt the last several sequels strayed away from the horror movie ‘rules’ to being straight slasher movies. This one is chalk full of rules to survive a requel: movies in the vein of The Force Awakens that bring in new characters for a new audience, “pass the torch”, bring back legacy characters, deconstruct what made the original ‘problematic’ and insert social justice messages. Where 4 circled around this stuff, Scream dives into it very specifically. It names names and diagnoses exactly what’s going on while avoiding it. Even the title is a meta reference to reboots that share the same title as the original like Halloween 2018.
With Halloween and 80s slashers now a generation removed from this new batch of teens, the movie turns to it’s in-universe parody Stab itself as horror inspiration. The teens in this movie don’t want to say “I’ll be right back” because they observed it in movies, but because Stab tells them not to say it. As a Scream movie, the look and feel of this movie fits right into the series. If anything, it’s the best looking Scream film to date, with a few scenes more visually striking than the more standard camera 2-shots of the series. This is a particularly nasty version of Ghostface as well, vicious and more brazen than the past. This Ghostface is not out for revenge, they are full of rage. Scream is one of the more brutal entries to the series with knives through hands, throats and creative kills with a French horror level of brutality inflicted on the human body while still surviving. Like all of these movies, you could probably knock it for being more clever than funny with meta jokes hitting more than the film’s one-liners, but the horror and comedy is blended beautifully here. Where reboots usually traffic in irony and winking to the camera, this movie still treats the threat seriously.
Maybe even more note-worthy, Scream knows exactly how to use it’s legacy characters. Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Dewey all return in this entry, with Dewey playing a major role in the story and Sydney and Gail given a brief but impactful level of screen time. Instead of forcing them into another trial of running for their lives like the teens, this movie builds on Sydney and Gail’s experience, treating them like the shark in Jaws, teased and then paid off in the finale. Their knowledge of the situation they are walking into is nuclear powered and able to see right through every trope these kids can throw at them. It’s a really well crafted solution to the problem of blending generational characters other franchises have not been able to solve. There is some clunkiness with the dialog here, specifically around Courtney Cox, where she is required to unload paragraphs of exposition to explain what has happened to these characters in the decade since she last saw them. It’s the area where I was most pulled out of the movie.
Scream pays respect to it’s late director without getting uncharacteristically saccharine (like Ghostbusters Afterlife) and homages the previous films without ironically deconstructing them to bring them into the current year (like Matrix Resurrections). The film’s direct homage to Craven is appropriately still just drunken teenagers taking shots at a party. Amid all of this it finds time to wedge in a discussion of “Elevated Horror”, name-checking the highlights from that genre over the last decade and questioning the fans and critics who insist that a horror movie must deal in issues of race, gender and generational trauma to be worth their time. In the age of Elevated Horror, the joys of a well made slasher movie need defenders too.
Scream 2022 has a lot to say. Olpin and Gillett seem to be standing outside of all these trends and observing. While Scream seems to have no love for reboots, it also dolls it out to over-the-top online fandom, those that say bad remakes “ruined their childhood” and use Mary Sue as a blanket criticism. The film directly aims at Star Wars fans who dominate the online movie conversation under a clever layer of backstory involving the in-universe sequel Stab 8 being nothing like the rest of the series. While it ultimately villainizes these fans, it also seems to be using Riann Johnson’s The Last Jedi as a blueprint for what not to do – as in, this movie itself deliberately avoids all of the expectation-subverting nonsense that left the Star Wars community so baffled and enraged. Scream follows the ‘rules’ of basic good scriptwriting, delivering surprises that aren’t pulled out of the air, a movie that escalates with stakes and set-ups that lead to satisfying payoffs. 2022’s Scream is an absolute treat for fans of this series and thrilling slasher movie in general.