Legacy — those who create it rarely live to see it last. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton has a line in which legacy is described as “planting seeds in a garden you never get to see grow.” In 1996, master filmmaker Wes Craven released Scream, a slasher that would literally change the way people spoke about horror films and would rejuvenate his career. Along with writer Kevin Williamson, he would create and produce four films that took final girl Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) from average teenager potential victim to proactive survivor. Craven passed in August 2015, but the world he created continues in a new story from directing team Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, known as the directing duo Radio Silence (Ready or Not), with a script from James Vanderbilt (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and Guy Busick (Ready or Not). Having more in common with recently released sci-fi action drama The Matrix Resurrections (2021) than Halloween (2018), Scream (2022) passes the torch without losing the significance of where the story began: the people of Woodsboro.
Henceforth, when referencing the current film, Scream, it will be present without the date unless necessary. Also, if you’re interested in a spoiler-free exploration of Scream (2022), then head over to EoM contributor Hunter Heilman’s initial theatrical review. Going forward, nothing is safe.
It’s been more than a decade since Ghostface last appeared in Woodsboro, California, which makes it all the more startling when Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) ends up in the hospital after managing to escape from the killer’s clutches. This attack not only puts Sherriff Hicks (Marley Shelton) on high alert, but instigates the return of Tara’s estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barrera). Seeking an expert, Sam and her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) track down Dewey Riley (David Arquette), who initially refuses to help, but eventually acquiesces as the past isn’t a thing one can hide from. Sam knows this all too well herself as, like several of Tara’s friends, she herself has a connection to the 1996 slayings: she’s Billy Loomis’s (Skeet Ulrich) daughter and it may just be the thing that kills her.
Scream is the rare franchise where, if pressed, I’d rank my preference of each film in order of release. Each one possesses its own strengths and weaknesses, each one anchored to the rules of horror films in a specific way. Personally, outside of the first film, which I love, what keeps me returning to the franchise has been the way the mythology has grown naturally. Loomis hatched his plan to get back at the Prescott family for the affair Sidney’s mother had with his father (catalyst for 1), Loomis’s mom wanted revenge in 2, and then we learn in 3 that all of this started because Sidney’s half-brother was rejected by their mother and put little Billy on the path to blood-soaked vengeance. For 4, the lineage remained paramount, with the killer being Sidney’s cousin who merely wanted fame. Granted, the motivation is a tad weaker than the previous three, but the way each film demonstrated Sidney’s progression as a survivor, presented beautifully by Campbell, made coming back worth the trip. In 5, Sidney takes a backseat, the typical thing that happens in a legacy sequel, as explained in the film by Randy Meek’s (Jamie Kennedy) niece Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), where any kind of loose, even ridiculous thread is pulled to connect a new group of characters to the ones from the previous films. Thus, Sam as the daughter of Billy becomes that loose thread, the child of Sidney’s ex and attempted killer. It’s not the most unique approach and it does sort of screw with the timeline a bit (Sam is roughly 23, but should be 25/26 if the mom was pregnant in 1996), but none of this matters as the narrative itself echoes a similar character journey of Sidney who was trying to get out from under the shadow of her mother as a seductress and family destroyer. In Scream, Sam must not only confront her past, but seek acceptance from the only family that matters to her, her sister. This is where she finds her redemption, whereas Sidney, in the 1996 film, found her redemption over the course of the first three films where she went from passive, almost subservient, individual to self-reliant and confident (which we get glimpses of in 4). Though Scream marks the start of Sam’s journey, and make no mistake that this film is Barrera’s, it does beautifully continue Sidney’s, demonstrating that she’s far from the summer child that blindly explored dark hallways or trusted tearful cries, calling bullshit when she sees it and tearing holes through closed doors before attempting to clear a room. Sidney’s had enough close calls to recognize when she’s being played and the script offers many an opportunity to confirm this. To me, that’s why it’s smart to introduce a new generation, even loosely connected to the original 1996 murders, because Sidney is too wise for this shit and the scripts wouldn’t be able to keep up with her wizened self.
This is where the script is smart. Where the film struggles, however, is in the way it amplifies the meta-ness of the series to grand heights. This isn’t to suggest that where this goes is terrible, but it’s more likely to be appreciated by folks willing to just role with it. For instance, a bit of the good is the opening scene with Ortega’s Tara who is outfitted in a similar manner as Drew Barrymore’s Casey from the original, even going so far as to mimic a few mannerisms. Far later, with the killer’s identity revealed, said person shows off their voice modulator in almost the same narrative method and physical movement as Ulrich’s Billy. These are lovely little notes, the tiniest of echoes that show-off how the script and cast are traveling across time from one Scream to another (giving the best narrative reason why the films share the same name). I’ll even give credit to the makeup job on Kyle Gallner’s Vince, who we find out in the featurette “New Blood” is sporting a series of Craven-related tattoos. Where, for me, the film struggles is the “look at me” type of meta-ness that leads to rolling of eyes instead of applause or laughter. Take Sam’s last name, an obvious reference to John Carpenter, half the creative team of Halloween (1978), and the very film being watched during the bloodbath at Stu’s (Mathew Lillard) house. Then there’s a brand-new character, Wes Hicks (Dylan Minnette), who’s created for this film in honor of Wes, so that he might be killed and eulogized within Craven’s own universe. In a slight echo to the first film, there’s a showdown between the killer, Sam, Sidney, and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) in the kitchen, except this time it happens underneath a “For Wes!” sign. Again, you’re either all in or not, so whether it works for you depends on how you feel about the whole super-meta approach. These films have always been aware of themselves, but there’s a difference between a throwaway gag involving a split-second shot of Craven playing a janitor dressed as Freddy Kruger and an establishing shot with the street sign “Elm Street” prominently in camera or, well, the death and celebration of the series figurehead. I’m all for getting weird, having in-jokes, and the like, but there came a point where the film seemed to be glad-handing itself just a tad too much. Personally, the whole “Stab 8 directed by Rian Johnson ruined the franchise and fans went nuts about it” portion of the narrative feels so 2017, even if it’s a beautiful joke at the toxicity of fandom. That this joke ends up being, more or less, the narrative catalyst for the new killings highlights how meta only matters when we’re willing to kill our darlings in the process. Put another way, it may be time to “let the past die. Kill it if you have to.”
The next entry in the Scream series is slated for March 31st, 2023, so only time will tell if Scream will be the end of the old and the start of the new, or if 6 will simply continue on, pulling at the meat like carrion on a carcass.
Whether you’re all in or not, I at least give credit for including roughly 27 minutes of bonus materials which run the gamut from celebrating Craven and Williamson, playing catch-up with the original crew (including behind the scenes on set of Scream past and present), and chatting with the new crew. If you kept up with the marketing for Scream ahead of its release, there’s not much that feels new in these bonus materials, but the nuggets you get are truly delightful and feel directed straight at audiences who have been along on this ride with Sidney, Gale, and Dewey since ’96. Like the aforementioned tattoo walkthrough, seeing the cast watch the original film while sitting in front of Stu’s house on the sound stage, or just hearing stories about how filming the first film felt versus how the new cast felt watching it, are the tidbits that remind us that while all the Scream films have their strengths and weaknesses, we love them all for bringing us this legacy of characters (good and bad). Personally, I’ll always think of Billy’s speech about Karo syrup when I see blood in films, feel horrible for the way Cotton Weary’s (Liev Schreiber) story ends, and be grateful that Sidney is constantly raised up from film to film.
As you’re deciding which edition to pick up, be advised that the 4K UHD edition, Blu-ray, and digital editions include all the bonus features, but the DVD only contains the film in standard definition. Additionally, it’s one physical disc and digital code per package, so those who prefer picking up physical-disc combo packs are at a loss this time around. Having only seen the film on 4K UHD disc, that would be the format I’d recommend watching it on if you want the best picture and sound as both the video and audio transfer are strong and clear. In a film where scares arise from what’s seen, unseen, and suggested, clarity of picture and dark blacks can really make the difference in ensuring we don’t see Ghostface until they want to be seen.
Scream 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and digital Special Features
- Filmmaker Commentary: The directors, writers and filmmakers reveal the unwritten rules for surviving this genre-busting horror movie. (1:54:19)
- Bloodlines: Catch up with Scream stars Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette for a deep dive into their characters and why they came back for a fresh stab at their favorite horror franchise. (8:34)
- New Blood: Meet the new generation of Woodsboro victims and potential killers! (7:34)
- In the Shadow of the Master: The cast honor movie maestro Wes Craven and look back on his incredible legacy as the director who redefined horror. (7:23)
- Deleted Scenes: Look out! They’re back from the dead: see the scenes slashed from the movie. (2:57)
- Scream 1996 Trailer (2:06)
Available on digital March 1st, 2022.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD April 5th, 2022.
For more information, head to the official Scream website.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.