Writer’s note: Light spoilers ahead for both Scream (2022) and the Scream franchise.
Movie Review: Scream (2022)
By Eric Hughes
January 30, 2022
There is a gag in the opening moments of Scream (2022) where Jenna Ortega’s character, Tara Carpenter, explains over the phone to Ghostface that her scary movie preference isn’t in slasher films but in “elevated horror”. The concrete examples of elevated horror she then provides to Ghostface include recent films like Hereditary, The Witch and The Babadook. Her character distinguishes between these two classifications – slasher films and elevated horror - as if they are two different sub genres within horror without any overlap.
After 26 years and five films, including the latest one, I’d argue that Tara’s classifications may be correct in her world, but not in ours. This is because the Scream franchise - a series of slasher films, of course - has elevated not only the slasher but the entire horror genre in ways that still seem so overlooked to me:
—Its characters evolve and change within one linear timeline, including its villains, which are never the same
—It explains the conventional rules of the horror film (Scream ), then the horror sequel (Scream 2), then the horror trilogy (Scream 3), and so on, and then demonstrates those rules to us by having them materially play out in each movie
—The series has managed to stay relevant and arguably fresh after each new release through reinvention, something many other franchises - not just horror - often fail to do
The slasher also has another thing going for it, thanks in large part to Scream. It has the power to transcend from popcorn flick to literal art when it holds up a metaphorical mirror and reflects back truths about the culture of the time period the movie shares with its audience. Like a vessel the filmmaker or production team can use to carry societal messages forward.
Scream, in concept, has perfected this process by conforming its villains to the same basic principles:
—Unknown assailants assume the mantle of Ghostface and wreak havoc, mainly on citizens of the fictional Woodsboro, California
—They communicate to their victims and play horror movie trivia games with them through a telephone
—Their weapons of choice are knives; and
—Unconventional to most horror movie villains, they run
Whereas Ghostface’s motivations for murdering people changes with each new installment without feeling contrived, because the character behind the mask chages - another notable contribution from Scream for the genre - the final girl is always the same: Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who finds the means within herself to overcome the odds and beat back the threat of Ghostface.
After the final unmasking in the closing minutes, the persons who gallivanted as Ghostface plainly describe their motivations for raising terror to the remaining characters. In its earliest iterations, still years before the real horror of the Columbine murders, Scream pointed an exasperated, blazing-red arrow at uncontrollable teenage aggression and psychopathy. A decade ago, in Scream 4, the series explored the vanity of social media and pitfalls of celebrity. This time around, without giving too much away, the franchise expounds upon Scream 4’s themes by doing a deeper dive into internet culture’s dark side. Once more, 26 years on, it’s Scream licking its finger, pointing it to the sky, and describing for us the direction and force of the air swirling above our heads.
This time, Scream is without its director, Wes Craven, who died in 2015. And, it’s largely without its writer, Kevin Williamson, who wrote all but Scream 3 but was brought on to this new project as an executive producer and as I understand it somewhat of an advisor to the filmmaking team. Despite that, the movie strikes a happy balance between comedy and suspense; between old characters and new characters. And, my feeling after ruminating on it over the past few days, it is the franchise’s best sequel since Scream 2 (1997).
Emulating Halloween (2018), which directly copied the name of the first film in its franchise and served as both a reboot and continuation of the Halloween story simultaneously, Scream (2022) copies those elements, too, but caked in the heavy-handed self-awareness we’ve come to expect from the series. Which, by the way, never seems to work as effectively when other movie franchises co-opt this plotting device that was popularized by Scream (see: The Matrix Resurrections).
Scream makes use of its legacy characters to great effect. For the first time, really, Sidney, Gale and Dewey are treated as fully-fleshed characters who by this point have notably evolved over the past few decades. Like the real-life Courteney Cox and David Arquette, who met each other on the set of Scream (1996), the on-screen Gale and Dewey have separated and are no longer married. Sidney is also now with Mark (presumably, Mark Kincaid from Scream 3) and is the mother of multiple children. Eerie, new killings in Woodsboro spring each of them out of peaceful retirement in order to teach a new generation of Woodsborians how to survive Ghostface’s brutality.
And brutality isn’t an oversell. In a series first, the kills in Scream are prolonged, very gruesome, but also distinctly creative. I don’t recall any of these as takeaways from the other movies. It’s certainly a far cry from Casey Becker’s (Drew Barrymore) death in the opening scene of Scream (1996), when the camera looked away from the carnage as Ghostface’s blade relentlessly stabbed its target.
In addition to Ortega’s Tara, new faces in Scream include Melissa Barrera, Mikey Madison, Dylan Minnette, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Dennis Quaid/Meg Ryan’s son, Jack Quaid and Cuba Gooding Jr.’s son, Mason Gooding. Standouts for me were Ortega and Madison, as both actresses demonstrated total commitments to their characters. Ortega, in particular, might be the best young actress that the franchise has ever had.
I also enjoyed Savoy Brown’s contributions to the film. Her character is the niece of the late Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy). Being a Meek, she purposefully explains the rules of “requels” - slang which describes Hollywood’s latest trend which proliferated following the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). True to its form, Scream defines the requel, establishes the rules of the requel and then demonstrates how those rules operate over the course of the movie.