Ghostface is back for another stab, this time attacking a new bunch of teens, in the horror franchise that definitely still loves scary movies.
January 13, 2022
Twenty-six years ago, "do you like scary movies?" stopped being just an ordinary question. Posed by a wrong-number caller who happened to be a ghostface-masked killer with a fondness for kitchen knives, it was the snappiest and savviest line in one of the 90s' biggest horror films — a feature filled with snappy and savvy lines, too — and it's now one of cinema's iconic pieces of dialogue. It also perfectly summarised Scream's whole reason for being. The franchise-starting slasher flick didn't just like scary movies, though. It was one, plus a winking, nudging comedy, and it gleefully worshipped at the altar of all horror films that came before it. Wes Craven helmed plenty of those frightening features prior to Scream, so the A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Hills Have Eyes director was well-equipped to splash around love for the genre like his villain splashed around entrails — and to eagerly and happily satirise all of horror's well-known tropes in the stab-happy process.
If you've seen the 1996 film or its three sequels till now, you've bathed in all that scary movie affection. You might've gleaned the horror basics from their rules and references; the OG film even had its characters watch Halloween and borrows the 70s classic's stellar score for key scenes. Geeking out over spooky cinema is the franchise's main personality trait, to the point that it has its own saga-within-a-saga, aka the Stab movies, and its fifth entry — also just called Scream — wouldn't dream of making that over. The famous question gets asked, obviously. Debates rage about the genre, enough other horror films are name-checked to fill a weekend-long movie marathon, cliches get skewered and dissected, and there's a Psycho-style shower scene. 'Elevated' horror standouts The Babadook, It Follows, The Witch and Hereditary earn a shoutout as well, but Scream itself just might be an elevator horror flick. It isn't set in one, but it crams in so much scary movie love that it always feels like it's stopping every few moments to let its nods and nerding-out disembark.
In other words, you'd really best answer Scream's go-to query with the heartiest yes possible, and also like watching people keep nattering about all things horror. Taking over from Craven, who also directed 1997's Scream 2, 2000's Scream 3 and 2011's Scream 4 but died in 2015, Ready or Not's Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett task their next generation of slasher fodder with showing their devotion with all the subtlety of a masked murderer who can't stop taunting their prey. It's playful, irreverent, loving and meta but also overdone, even as the film has something savage to say about internet-era fandom and its non-stop demands (especially with big, popular and ongoing franchises like this). A little too often, the new Scream resembles chatting to that one person at a party who won't stop going on about the sole thing they adore, even if you love it with equal passion.
One of those cinephile titbits that gets mentioned over and over: that the film considers itself a requel, aka a flick that keeps the same context as its predecessors — same timeline, same world and some legacy characters, too — but introduces fresh faces to give the original a remake. So it is that this Scream dispatches Ghostface upon today's Woodsboro high schoolers, because the fictional spot is up there with Sunnydale and Twin Peaks on the list of places that are flat-out hellish for teens. Scream 4 did the same, but the first new attack by the saga's killer is designed to lure home someone who's left town. Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera, In the Heights) hightailed it the moment she was old enough, fleeing a family secret, but is beckoned back when her sister Tara (Jenna Ortega, You) receives the feature's opening "do you like scary movies?" call.
Soon, bodies are piling up, Ghostface gives Woodsboro that grim sense of deja vu again, and Tara's friends — including the horror film-obsessed Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown, Yellowjackets), her twin Chad (Mason Gooding, Love, Victor), his girlfriend Liv (Sonia Ammar, Jappeloup), and other pals Wes (Dylan Minnette, 13 Reasons Why) and Amber (Mikey Madison, Better Things) — are trying to both survive while basically cycling through the OG feature again, complete with a crucial location, and sleuth out the culprit using their scary movie knowledge. Everyone's a suspect, including Sam herself and her out-of-towner boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid, The Boys), and also the begrudging resident expert on this exact situation: ex-sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette, Spree). The latter is the reason that morning show host Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox, Cougar Town) and initial Ghostface target Sidney Prescott (Skyscraper) make the trip back to Woodsboro again as well.
Working with a script by Murder Mystery's James Vanderbilt and Ready or Not's Guy Busick, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are in familiar territory several times over — their ace last release was all about attempting to outwit disturbed murderers, too — and they're well-aware that their audience knows it. "I've seen this movie before," Sidney slyly comments in one pivotal scene, which is this Scream's most telling moment. Just like the thin line between intriguing and unhinged in all those gravelly-voiced phone chats, the line between fun and repetitive is oh-so-slight here. Because this kind of sequel is currently Hollywood's favourite thing, Scream splits the difference between Ghostbusters: Afterlife and The Matrix Resurrections; it's never anywhere near as dull and grating as the first, but it's not as smart and ambitious as the second, either.
It is gloriously gory, though. Blood, like horror movie references, flows thick and fast. Indeed, Scream 2022 is at its best when it's doing two things: staging those teased-out kills with stylish flair, which is where the flick's self-referential obsession gets its finest time to shine, and taking another slice at its three franchise mainstays' stories. Sidney and co are supporting players this time, as per requel rules, but they're the callbacks that are worth the price of admission over the Stab chatter and obligatory 'Red Right Hand' needle-drop. The new cast members put in a fair effort — Barrera and Savoy Brown especially; both have had a killer on-screen past 12 months anyway — but the bulk of the movie's first-timers always feel too disposable. Yes, this slasher sequel falls victim to unshakeable tropes far more than it successfully subverts them. It's still mostly entertaining enough, and the franchise had endured other average-at-best chapters (see: Scream 3 and Scream 4); however, looking self-satisfiedly backwards instead of leaping forwards, it's basically running up the stairs when it should be heading out the front door.