The New 'Scream' Movie Has Fun with a Familiar Formula
The fifth installment in the cherished horror franchise tackles requel culture.
The Scream movies are about movies. The first three installments at once launched and commented on the boom of '90s teen horror as well as the tropes that have defined the genre for years. When 2011's Scream 4 first revived the series after an 11-year break, the scary-film landscape was changing. Series like Final Destination were issuing their last gasps, and the low-budget Paranormal Activities of the world had started to take over. Scream 4 tackled the idea of a "reboot." Now Scream 5—titled just Scream—enters the world of the "requel" or the "lega-sequel"—the term helpfully defined by our nouveau Randy Meeks (may he rest in peace), played by Jasmin Savoy Brown of Yellowjackets and The Leftovers fame.
These movies—Ghostbusters: Afterlife, 2018's Halloween, the latest Star Wars trilogy—bring back original heroes like Laurie Strode and Han Solo while also introducing a fresh cast of characters that somehow connect back to the past. Their main goal is appeasing fans of the franchise, doling out helpings of nostalgia but asking them to invest in new characters. Of course, this is exactly what 2022's Scream is trying to do. But the glory of the world of Scream is its ability to be meta while also commenting on just how meta it's being, and this new installment, directed by Radio Silence's Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, pulls that off with a pile of red herrings and a savvy, funny, destined-to-piss-people-off message about what it means to be a fan today.
This Scream—the first not directed by Wes Craven, to whom it is dedicated, and not written by Dawson's Creek creator Kevin Williamson—opens, as is tradition, with a phone call. Except this time, when teen Tara (Jenna Ortega) is asked to name her favorite scary movie, she responds by saying The Babadook. "It's an amazing mediation on motherhood and grief," she says, before this latest killer pooh-poohs the notion of "elevated horror," the sometimes-derided term applied to recent indie hits like It Follows, The Witch, and Hereditary. Instead, the voice on the other line starts quizzing her on the Stab franchise, the series of fictional movies based on the events that happen in every Scream installment.
Ghostface attacks, requiring Tara's semi-estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barrera), who has (smartly) fled the cursed town of Woodsboro, to return home. She brings her boyfriend, Richie (Jack Quaid), and they start investigating Tara's friend group to see which one of them was inspired by the murderers of yore. For help, Sam and Richie seek out David Arquette's Dewey Riley, now off the Woodsboro police force and dejectedly watching his ex-wife Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) host a national morning news show. Dewey warns Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), the OG target of these attacks, to stay away; now married with kids, she obliges. That is, until events force her to get involved. As they always do.
At first, there's an unnerving seriousness surrounding Sam's return to Woodsboro. Scream is, at its heart, goofy, even when it acknowledges the trauma of what Sidney has gone through, so the moments when we're asked to invest in Sam's own troubled past are disorienting and start to drag. Is this Scream…dramatic? Not really. The false sense that somehow this one is going to plumb new psychological depths is part of the trick that leads to the big twist. (What are requels about if not trauma, okay?)
While sometimes this tonal balance strains—Barrera, luminous in In the Heights, is unfortunately tasked with expressing vague emotional agony most of the time—the new cast is vibrant and the kills are gory. Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin revel in bone crunches and skin slicing, having a blast playing with the notion that Ghostface could be hiding behind any door. The final showdown mashes up its revelations with fabulous blood spatter, winning knowing giggles from the audience as well as forcing them to recoil with glee.
The challenge for any Scream movie is whether it can comment on tropes while still subverting them, and 2022's incarnation succeeds by tossing a cheeky middle finger to its fans but still lovingly embracing them. The film plays into expectations while killing them at the same time.