Movie Review: Scream (2022)
By Matthew Huntley
January 30, 2022
Before I left to go see “Scream” (2022), I said to my wife (and I’m paraphrasing here), “I really hope it’s good. The original was such a seminal movie during my adolescence.” I’ve a feeling most viewers flocking to “Scream” (2022), especially those who grew up in the ‘90s just as I did, will share my sentiment.
And of course, with “Scream” (2022) being a “Scream” movie, and in particular a “Scream” sequel, it’s already aware of what the audience is hoping for and thinking about going in, and it isn’t shy about making us aware that it’s aware.
Flaunting its own meta is how the “Scream” sequels have always operated. The original “Scream” (1996) did too, but it was more subtle about its savviness, which is why it remains the best of its kind. Now, however, instead of referring to and analyzing itself as just another sequel in the 25-year-old franchise, we’re told during the signature “Scream” movie monologue—which breaks down what type of movie the characters are in and therefore what the audience should expect from it—that this latest entry is a “requel,” or a combination of a reboot and a sequel, which explains why “Scream” (2022) isn’t simply titled “Scream 5.”
This isn’t as confusing as it may sound, and unfortunately, the movie isn’t as amusing or as clever as it thinks it is. The screenplay by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick is sharp and coherent, to be sure, and it’s obvious the writers, as well as the film’s directors, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet, know this space extremely well and are no strangers to the horror genre. But no matter how much the articulate characters know and explain the type of movie they’re in, and no matter how much they relate their knowledge about the far-reaching influence a series starter can have on popular culture or how much fervent fandom it can generate, what “Scream” (2022) ultimately brings to the table isn’t all that interesting. For anyone familiar with the brand and its underlying premise, the movie doesn’t show or tell us anything we haven’t seen or been told before, which begs the question, what’s the point of this “requel”?
I ask this, and yet, I’m aware I’m asking it as a dedicated fan of the original, and to a lesser degree, the “Scream” sequels. The new “Scream” (2022), to its credit, is competently made and contains some surprisingly strong performances, even if the actors are deliberately playing archetypes that were first born out of the horror genre and then customized by the “Scream” series: sympathetic heroine; blood-thirsty killer; unsuspecting victim(s); geeky, know-it-all film buff, etc. If I wasn’t privy to the franchise’s schtick, I could see myself responding to “Scream” (2022) much the same way I responded to, well, “Scream” (1996), which is to say I probably would have found it smart, hip, funny, scary, and even emotional at times. But because I have a predisposed mindset to the now original classic, written by Kevin Williamson and helmed by the late Wes Craven, I must criticize it as someone who knows the routine and was hoping this latest installment would shake things up a bit. Regrettably, it doesn’t.
For the record, I wasn’t expecting anything remarkable from the plot. The M.O. of the “Scream” movies has never been to present the audience with a creative story, but rather to have the characters deconstruct and send up a tried-and-true formula, with that formula now being the conventional Hollywood reboot. And because reboots have become so stale and commonplace, it’s fitting that “Scream” (2022) should try to take these on, while simultaneously doing its “Scream” thing by heeding what it’s also mocking.
With that in mind, one of the main rules of a reboot, the movie tells us, is to stay loyal, in some capacity, to the original, lest it upset fans and cause outrage on social media. And so “Scream” (2022) unabashedly rehashes its own formula by once again centering around a mysterious killer who’s stalking and murdering teenagers in the infamous town of Woodsboro, and he/she/them once again dons the trademark Ghostface costume and uses a single knife to stab and cut victims. And just to keep things consistent, the killer, using the signature deep, sinister sounding “Scream” voice, calls those about to be “sliced and diced” beforehand and asks them, “What’s your favorite scary movie?”
Now that 25 years have passed since the original, the would-be victims’ answer to the above question has understandably shifted from the classic, simple-minded slasher flicks, such as “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th,” to the modern and sophisticated “elevated horror” entries, such as “The Babadook.” Nevertheless, the would-be victim at the beginning remains the same: a seemingly helpless teenage girl who’s home alone and has a chip on her shoulder. As soon as her landline (remember these?) rings, the torture and killing spree begin, along with the question of who’s doing it and why, which has always been the hook of the “Scream” movies.
Even for those unfamiliar with the series, this setup and plot isn’t anything to write home about. At its core, it’s your basic run-of-the-mill horror movie, during which horny and self-centered teenagers get picked off one by one. On the plus side, though, the cast is charming and diverse, even if the fresh-faced actors are all once again too old to be playing high school students (which the movie knows is a joke).
We get the new heroine, Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera); Sam’s younger sister Tara (Jenna Ortega), the girl who’s “nearly filleted” during the opening sequence; Wes Hicks (Dylan Minnette), whose mom Judy (Marley Shelton) is the local sheriff; Richie Kirsch (Jack Quaid), Sam’s semi-nerdish boyfriend; Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding), with Mindy filling the role of her late Uncle Randy (Jamie Kennedy) by explaining the rules of a “requel”; and the seemingly unimportant Amber Freeman (Mikey Madison) and Liv McKenzie (Sonia Ammar). Why did I bother to list the characters’ last names? Because any horror buff will be able to tell you the surnames have a connection to classics from the genre, although I haven’t established them all yet.
These new characters are joined by their “legacy” counterparts, all of whom are survivors of the last four movies: Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), the formidable, death-defying heroine; Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), the gossipy former news reporter and author who’s now a congenial morning show host; and Dewey Riley (David Arquette), the bumbling yet dedicated former sheriff of Woodsboro.
After the rules of a “requel” are explained to us, it’s clear any one of the characters, new or legacy, could be the killer, and there’s no rhyme or reason as to who it is. The movie simply eliminates the possibilities by systematically presenting one violent and bloody death scene after another until the final showdown, which, you might have guessed, takes place at a remote country house during a keg party, where there are virtually no parents, and the killer finally reveals his/her/their motivation.
All the while, the movie brazenly dishes out the typical horror movie devices: an open door filing the frame to make us wonder whether or not Ghostface will suddenly appear behind it once it’s closed; flower vases being used as weapons; the killer’s small knife making an uncommonly loud shrieking sound even though it doesn’t rub up against anything that would warrant such a sound; no one being smart enough to shoot the killer in the head or taking the mask off before the killer has a chance to regain consciousness; phones ringing off the hook; the killer over-explaining his/her/their motives, etc. The movie delivers these conventions in true “Scream” movie fashion, whereby they’re meant to both frighten and generate wink-wink laughs.
Like I said, the movie’s way of simultaneously sending up and paying allegiance to the horror genre may prove fresh to “Scream” movie novices, and I really hope it does, because it might incentivize them to watch the original and see it done better. As a veteran viewer of the series, though, this reboot felt like just another run around the same block. The filmmakers seem to think that just because they’re hip, self-aware, and transparent about what the movie is doing that it somehow excuses them from coming up with more innovative ideas—that just because they admit to retrograding old material that it’s okay that they do it.
To label “Scream” (2022) “lazy” would be too harsh, because I believe the filmmakers had good intentions and genuinely thought they could revitalize a series they clearly love, and in doing so, rekindle enthusiasm for longtime fans while striking up excitement for new ones. But they rely too heavily on exhausted routines, which render as just sort of ho-hum, and there aren’t enough surprises or new, interesting insights into the concepts of horror movies, sequels, or reboots to make us think “Scream” (2022) had a reason for being, or that the time put into it by the filmmakers and cast was time well spent. Rather, our thoughts are that they had nothing better to do.