|When a teen with a past connected to the Woodsboro murders finds herself the target of a new Ghostface killer, she must seek the help from previous survivors to confront her fears.
|1 hour, 54 minutes
|January 14, 2022
|Paramount Pictures, Spyglass Media Group
|Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
|James Vanderbilt, Guy Busick, Kevin Williamson (characters)
|Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette
Wes Craven was a giant contributor to the world of cinema, involved in the creation of not one but two successful horror film franchises: A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. Possessing one of the greatest minds in the genre, his passing in 2015 left many fans nervous as to the future of his works. 2022’s Scream is one of the first to continue without Craven’s input. However, with the writing and directing credits stacked with talent, with films like Ready or Not or Zodiac in their filmography, is it possible for this fifth film to have found itself in the (red) right hands?
Violence/Scary Images: This movie is a strong horror that sits firmly within the slasher subgenre; it aims to terrify audiences with its knife-wielding masked serial killer. Multiple characters (some are teenagers) are stabbed and killed. This film is particularly brutal with its depiction; it shows close ups on the stabbing acts, the knife blade entering and exiting the skin, gutting movements, and compound fractures, with realistic amounts of blood, sometimes spurting out of wounds. One character catches on fire. Characters are shot. One character hallucinates a deceased person.
Language/Crude Humor: The f-bomb is dropped multiple times along with other severe course language. There’s a point where it seems that “F—you” is the franchise’s catchphrase.
Drug/Alcohol References: Teens are seen drinking alcohol at a house party. Multiple conversations reference the past usage of illicit substances, alcoholism, and the need for prescription drugs.
Sexual Content: Teen couples kiss and discuss the possibility of sexual intercourse. No nudity. No actual sex scenes. A teenage male takes his shirt off and has a shower.
Spiritual Content: None.
Other Negative Content: Despite losing people close to them, the characters in this film repeatedly accuse each other of murder in a joking manner—the more you think about it, the more disturbing it becomes. Characters seemingly idolize past tragic events and the horror films that were inspired by them.
Positive Content: The film continuously sends the message that a person is not defined by their past. The movie also oddly critiques the media’s irresponsible role in glorifying violence.
Scream (1996) was a landmark film that firmly made its mark on the slasher subgenre and inspired a new wave of movies in that field. Yet unlike its predecessors, it’s a horror that isn’t necessarily defined by its villain. Halloween has Michael Myers. Friday the 13th has Jason Voorhees. A Nightmare on Elm Street has Freddy Krueger. Each is iconic in their look, and the same is true with Scream’s “Ghostface” killer, though it’s the odd one out since it’s a franchise defined by the costume—the identity of the murderer changes each time.
So when it’s time to produce another sequel, the question must be asked: If the villain and their motives aren’t constant, then what defines a Scream movie?
What made it markedly different from similar movies was its tone. The original film still operated as a standard slasher, but it was also satirical. It featured a sense of self-awareness as it wholesomely embraced all the tropes of the slasher subgenre (with 1978’s Halloween being the film which classified and cemented that style of storytelling) all while it simultaneously critiqued its own narrative structure.
If you’ve been watching Netflix’s The Movies That Made Us horror documentary series, then you’d know that Friday the 13th unashamedly ripped Halloween’s box office winning formula to great success. What followed was an entire slew of low-budget horror films that tried to capitalize on Halloween’s popular plot outline until audience’s grew tired of seeing the same story beats and patterns. Then came Scream (1996) which lovingly mocked the movies that came before it, providing the slasher genre a much-needed breath of fresh air as audiences gravitated to the film’s meta commentary. It was therefore at the forefront of film culture. Scream (1996) both paid homage to the films that established the “rules” of the slasher subgenre while also being innovative as it dared to push those established boundaries to create something new.
Essentially a Scream movie is associated with a certain brand of wit and cleverness, both of which are difficult traits to attain with each subsequent film. Impressively the franchise has managed to maintain its reputation and its relevance over the years with barely a misstep along the way. Scream 3 isn’t as beloved by fans due to it dipping too far into a dark comedy, though it did round out Sidney Prescott’s character journey. Meanwhile Scream 4 was a competent film even though it introduced a host of new characters. Even the television spin-off series was a decent outing despite being plagued with production and distribution issues. With both the Halloween and Friday the 13th franchises descending into silliness, the Saw movies devolving into torture porn, and with The Conjuring series now featuring more misses than hits, the Scream films arguably form the strongest popular horror franchise.
Not only is the fifth entry into the series the first without Wes Craven’s involvement, but there is also undoubtably a lot of pressure for 2022’s Scream to not destroy the franchise’s decent running streak. So it is a pleasure to report this isn’t the case—Scream (2022) is an enjoyable movie. While the very existence of a fifth film within a franchise of yesteryear naturally presents its own set of challenges and problems, it mostly tackles its inherent issues even though it ultimately achieves only being a good piece of cinema as opposed to being great.
It’s a commendable film considering the unique challenges it faced this time around. Back in 2011 when Scream 4 was released, the horror genre was rollicking in the guttural death throes of its torture porn phase, where the subgenre at that point was holding on to the last dregs of intellectual engagement—something that once featured front and center in the Saw franchise before it devolved into an excuse to portray the worst of human brutality. Yet since that time, the genre went through a Renaissance of sorts, where films like The Babadook, The Witch and It Follows artfully analyzed and explored themes, issues and human conditions through an appropriate lens; the use of the horror genre became justified, and the creation of scary movies just for the sake of it fell by the wayside. The trend later became recognized as “elevated horror” and the change is a welcome part of cinematic history.
What this means is that slashers are now rare. The formula is dated. It’s generic. Ironically the Scream franchise explored the subgenre to such a satisfactory extent that it left little reason for filmmakers to continue the trend. For a film franchise that is renown for not only critiquing the artform but also being ahead of the curve, this time Scream was placed in a position where it didn’t have a lot to offer. So instead of looking outward, it looked inward.
Scream (2022) is a film about legacies. It understands that it has no hope of competing alongside award-winning elevated horrors, so it doesn’t try. Like all the previous movies, Scream (2022) is incredibly self-aware of where it stands in the wider context of cinema. It doesn’t necessarily aim to be fresh because it knows it’s been around long enough to be one of the forefathers of the genre, so it now critiques its own position. It acknowledges the risk of this fifth film in the series tanking, and it jokes on the backs of other failed horror franchises, while symbolically holding hands with the recent rebooted Halloween movies and gives them a nod of respect. It refuses to participate in the current direction of the genre and instead questions whether it can maintain its own relevance. How do these old film franchises manage to stay alive across multiple decades? Do sequels cut it anymore? Is a reboot the answer? A “requel” might be the way to go, but apparently there’s debate about that.
We know the film is aware of its limitations because the characters literally discuss such topics. It’s interesting to review this film straight after watching The Matrix Resurrections given that both movies are in a similar position (reviving an old, popular movie series) and both use the tactic of going self-referential and meta to cover their flaws and to dissuade criticism. Scream does it better, possibly because they’ve always done this, so it’s keeping on brand at this point. However just because a movie refers to other films, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s meta. Yet just when I was ready to pass judgement on this film as merely presenting a veneer of cleverness, the movie takes a turn in tone or narrative beat to show that it’s not all talk.
At this stage it’s assumed that audiences have viewed all the previous films in the franchise—the plot isn’t deep enough to lose newcomers, but knowledge of the past characters simply increases a viewer’s enjoyment. (Please note this film contains spoilers as to whom donned the Ghostface masks in the original film). The screenwriters are aware it needs to straddle two very different demographics; those that have been loyal to the series, and those that may wish to watch from this point onwards. Sidney Prescott and the other two major legacy characters, Gale Weathers and Dewey Riley, are as much part of the scenery as the Ghostface costume, to the extent that it’s difficult to picture a Scream film without any of them. Naturally the difficulty is that the actors have not only aged, but their characters have also dealt with a lot of their trauma already in the previous films; eventually we need to let go of them and allow the franchise to latch onto someone else.
Scream cheekily does a full-blown self-analysis of this hard truth as it tries to navigate the maintenance of its own legacy and pleasing long-time fans whilst also crafting something new to cement the succession of future movies. Unfortunately more time is spent setting up the new characters (and cannon fodder) than with our old favourites, leaving them not much to really do within the plot, though Dewey Riley gets some long-overdue character development.
As for the new cast, they all play their roles well and have fun with their parts even though there is much to be desired when it comes to their personalities holding any sort of depth. Jenna Ortega is a particular standout as she beautifully depicts the emotional highs and terrifying lows her character experiences. However, it’s Melissa Barrera that’s considered the true protagonist of this movie, as her character, Sam Carpenter (notice the film trivia nod?), has a dark past that needs to be confronted in order to survive the ordeal. A lot of other critics have also praised her acting alongside Ortega’s, yet I personally found her to be rather restrained; given the character’s backstory, I was hoping we’d witness a moment where she finally becomes unleashed, and while the film does eventually deliver in that direction, it could have been taken further.
Out of all of the movies in this franchise, this latest film is the one that is the most comfortable with itself. It wholeheartedly and unashamedly embraces the fact that it’s a slasher—a subgenre of a bygone era. It knows it’s not deep. It knows it’s exploitative with its liberal use of jump scares, something which is now considered cheap. There’s an entire sequence where the directors intentionally tease viewers in this regard, cheekily setting up camera angles and playfully inserting stingers to mock these film techniques. Getting food from the fridge has never been so scary.
What’s more fun is that the film needles down some of the core elements of what’s truly required in a Scream movie, and one of those is that it’s essentially a “whodunnit”. The characters are aware they’re in a horror movie scenario, and just like all the prior films, the “rules” on how to survive are mentioned. Of course, since the slasher genre has barely evolved since the last outing of this franchise, Scream starts to joke about its own traditions it has established, including one where the killer is already known to the protagonist. Therefore every character in the film looks suspicious. They deliver creepy lines and tease motivations. While it’s somewhat intriguing and fun, it does get weird to see people mock and threaten each other right after a person close to them has been brutally stabbed to death—real people don’t act this way, and these caricatures do detract from the suspension of disbelief at times. The film is wildly inconsistent with this; sometimes the pace slows to a crawl whilst a character or two deal with their grief, while other times the passing of a fellow teen is barely given any emotional weight.
Scream certainly isn’t the first horror to take a light-hearted approach or to include meta elements, though recent films like 2019’s Black Christmas and 2021’s Candyman have taken a similar road only to fail at their main objective—to be a horror film. Scream, like the others in the series, still remembers to succeed on that front. It manages to beautifully balance its multiple tones and even dares to go dark, almost hypocritically criticizing the media’s unhealthy and somewhat disturbing obsession with true crime, along with taking a closer look at horror fans themselves as to why they’re so interested in the kills. It serves as a reminder that such content isn’t something to be celebrated.
As a result, the deaths in Scream are brutal. It’s been a while since I’ve seen all the films in the series, but I don’t remember the murder sequences being so graphic and bleak. The camera lingers to the extent that it becomes uncomfortable. The characters may have shallow personalities, but they still manage to evoke sympathy as the film depicts their horrid final moments as they face a fate that no one deserves. The deaths are realistic—what you see is exactly how one could imagine it would look like to watch a person get stabbed multiple times. It doesn’t take pleasure in its gore like other horror films, nor does it cut away to make it more palatable. Rather it gives the audiences what they wanted, but the directors make sure it’s done in a way to ensure viewers begin to question why they paid money to see people getting stabbed in the first place.
It’s fitting given the recent works of Daniel Farrands, who drew ire in the film world due to his reprehensible and tasteless retellings of real-life murder cases through his movies The Haunting of Sharon Tate and The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson. While he is not directly mentioned in Scream, the film does have a bone to pick about such unethical filmmaking given how it references its movie-within-a-movie “Stab” series and how it grossly sensationalizes and trivializes Sidney Prescott’s unfortunate life, turning it into entertainment. Indeed, Scream raises many issues, whether it’s the nature of copycat killers, the capitalization of another’s suffering for entertainment, or simply airing filmmaking woes. It doesn’t offer many answers to these meaty topics, but the film is at least great in being a conversation starter.
Scream is not a perfect movie. It does thematically retread a lot of the ground that was already covered in Scream 4. However, it does well in catering to a wide range of tastes—if you’re looking for a fun slasher, Scream still delivers those thrills, but it does offer the opportunity to dig a little deeper if viewers wish to analyze things further. While I still prefer The Babadook, Scream could easily earn the title of being an “elevated slasher”, maintaining its legacy of being at the forefront of new horror trends.
+ It delivers.
+ Balances its comedic and dark horror tones.
+ Potentially has a lot to say should viewers wish to look deeper.
+ Love letter to the genre.
+ Owns it.
- Thematically covers some things already explored in previous films.
- Legacy characters don't have that much to do.
- Some unrealistic emotional development from characters.
- Some stilted acting.
- Uneven pacing.
- Requires watching all previous films and holding some horror movie knowledge to truly find it rewarding.
The Bottom Line
Scream continues the legacy of this above-average franchise. It delivers what most audiences were hoping to see, while also offering the possibility to have deeper discussions surrounding the issues and themes it whimsically explores. It’s still not elevated horror, but it’s certainly a notch above most in the genre.