NOTICE: I will obviously not be discussing spoilers or fun reveals for this film, however, I will be divulging the very basic plot setup, as well as spoilers for previous Scream films. You’ve had decades, don’t get mad at me for telling you Billy and Stu were the killers in 1996. Bruce Willis is also dead at the end of The Sixth Sense, too.
It is no secret to literally anyone that I love the Scream series, even if Scream 3 is a bit of a struggle (despite Parkey Posey’s best efforts). The intention and tone of Wes Craven’s quadrilogy spanning from 1996 to 2001 perfectly captured the ever-changing landscape of the horror genre while simultaneously influencing and revitalizing the genre in its own right. Craven’s 1996 original is still perhaps one of the finest slasher films ever made, maybe second only to John Carpenter’s Halloween, but who’s keeping track? With Craven at the helm of all four films, there was a sense of implied ownership of the series entrusted to him (at least by fans), but unfortunately, nothing lasts forever, and after Craven’s death in 2015, there was speculation as to whether anyone would be willing to accept a fifth Scream installment without Craven around to make it.
This, along with Dimension Films’s demise following the Weinstein scandals, left things not looking great, but there’s always hope, kids. After a lengthy process of Lantern Entertainment acquiring the rights to all former Weinstein Company assets (including Dimension Films), then spinning that library out into a relaunch of Spyglass Entertainment as Spyglass Media Group, and securing a distribution deal with Paramount Pictures, we were back in business, and the market for young, hungry horror filmmakers to step in was far from paltry. Following their debut cult hit Ready or Not, Radio Silence (a team of directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett) were tapped as the worthy duo to carry on the Scream franchise with original cast members after an 11 year absence. But does lightning strike twice? Can anyone really step into the shoes of Wes Craven? Why is it coming out in January? Why do the trailers not excite me? Why the hell is it just called Scream and not Scream 5? Or even better, 5cream? I had a lot of reservations coming into this that I needed addressing.
And honestly, after seeing it, I feel rather silly doubting that Radio Silence could deliver the goods that are so proudly on display here.
Scream (2022) follows Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) as she comes home to her hometown of Woodsboro with her boyfriend, Richie (Jack Quaid), after her sister, Tara (Jenna Ortega) is attacked by a killer donning the iconic Ghostface mask. Richie, Tara, and her friends (Jasmin Savoy-Brown, Mason Gooding, Dylan Minnette, Mikey Madison, Sonia Ammar) are stumped trying to figure out who the new killer is and their motive for attacking Tara. As more murders occur, each hitting closer to home, Sam is forced to involve the only people she knows could help them survive this: the fabled faces of Dewey Riley (David Arquette), Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and final girl Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell).
The Scream films as a whole are deceptively simple, and it makes sense for them to be. As slashers, audiences are expecting the goods when it comes to violence, scares, and stupid decisions from the characters onscreen. Scream always delivers that in spades, but where it always shines is obviously in its famous deconstruction of the horror genre as a whole (particularly what “trendy” horror of the moment entails), as well as the Scooby Doo-esque whodunnit aspects that always makes a first watch of any Scream film a venerable roller coaster of guessing who the killer is this time around (I guessed wrong for this installment, which is always humbling). It’s like one big game of Clue with a lot more gore and a lot less Madeline Kahn. There’s also always a very lighthearted tone to the series, utilizing humor to offset an audience’s uneasiness so that when the shit finally does hit the fan, we’re as frightened as much as we’re entertained.
Radio Silence’s perceptiveness of what audiences want from a Scream film while injecting much of their own style (as seen on display in Ready or Not) really made me understand why both the studio and the legacy cast were so willing to give Radio Silence the time of day while weighing whether to make a Scream film without Craven. There are an insane number of reverences to Craven’s body of work here, but it never feels like a pale imitation on the part of Radio Silence. The inspiration always seems to be in the thought of every scene, but there’s also a unique life to this film that feels markedly different from the first four films and entirely appropriate.
Casting, while perhaps not as star-studded as previous entries, proves that modern horror is all about making stars, not just utilizing our existing ones once more. Barrera and Quaid make an incredibly charming mystery squad investigating the new string of murders, and I honestly didn’t mind that they played first fiddle to the legacy characters, unlike previous entries. As a fifth entry in a horror series, it’s a miracle in and of itself to get any original cast members back (if you haven’t already killed them), and it’s almost expected for said performances to be phoned in for a quick paycheck once they are there. This is something else that makes Scream feel so refreshing in that Campbell, Cox, and Arquette still feel as invigorated about the series as ever, and they are very obviously having just as much fun as the new kids in town.
However, special recognition needs to be paid to two specific actors for some excellent work: Jasmin Savoy Brown and Jenna Ortega. Perhaps I’m a little biased on Ortega, as I fell for her intense charms with SXSW film The Fallout where she gave one of the best performances I saw last year (and is on HBO Max sometime this January, reportedly), so seeing her in a horror franchise I love is already a plus, but watching her take on and reinvent the classic Drew Barrymore archetype from the first film and make it into her own was so fun. Brown brings forth an energy to her character that both makes sense in the grand scheme of things, but also is just having so much fun here. Each Scream film really has that one supporting character that you’re begging and pleading for nothing bad to happen to them (Randy, Hallie, Jennifer, Kirby), and Brown tackled her role with such an immense charm, that it almost made everyone else feel expendable in comparison.
Perhaps, if I had complaints about the film, there were two and they’re generally pretty small in the grand scheme of things. It is quite noticeable in the sequences specifically focusing on the teenage characters that screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, who obviously know how to write a damn good murder mystery, don’t really know how to realistically write Gen-Z teenagers in a way that doesn’t feel oddly cold. It’s a very strange complaint, and I’ve certainly seen many films do it much worse, but I’ve also seen other films do it much better, and for such a teen-centric franchise, I wish that had been a bit more filled out. The larger, but still minor thing is that, despite Brian Tyler’s competence with the score, and his working relationship with Radio Silence, Marco Beltrami’s absence is heavily felt this time around. While I can appreciate directors using their trusted partners, as well as trying to distance themselves from trying to simply imitate the Craven films, I did miss those iconic strings that made Beltrami’s score so incredibly iconic.
Also, yes, they do justify why the film is called Scream and not Scream 5.
There’s not really much that can be said about Scream without digging into major spoiler territory, but that would obviously ruin the immense fun that comes with the mystery elements of this highly successful sequel. It’s smart, thrilling, and incredibly charming — everything a great slasher film should be. Personally speaking, I let myself get too wrapped up in the pre-release hype (or lack thereof) and forgot to let myself enjoy the experience, a feeling that faded away no more than 30 seconds into this film, when that comfortable, but thrilling, Scream essence came through in full force. It’s an intense, risky balancing act continuing the series after Craven’s death, but it’s one Radio Silence pulls off while still maintaining the series trademark fresh wit and insanely fun thrills. Scream is a total blast.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.
In theaters January 14th, 2022.
For more information, head to the official Scream website.