'Scream': A Fresh, Surprisingly Sharp, and Worthy Requel
Updated: Jan 24, 2022
The Scream franchise came into my life at an interesting time. I was in high school when I watched the original film, and at that point in time, I wasn't that big of a horror fan. I had grown tired of the genre, and was pretty dismissive towards anything horror. In retrospect, this is likely because the horror films of the late 2000s to early 2010s aren't all that great. This was the heyday of torture porn and found footage movies, with the Saw franchise, Eli Roth, Paranormal Activity, and a host of imitators saturating the market, and trying to cash in on these trends. While I liked the first two Saw movies at the time, the rest of these didn't appeal to me at all. As a result, I was pretty anti-horror for a few years, but I had always heard great things about the original Scream movie. It's one of those movies I have always been aware of, mainly because I would constantly see the VHS cover any time I went to the video store. This, along with the iconic Ghostface was practically burned in my mind from an early age, and I knew that I would probably get around to watching the film one of these days given how popular it is. When I finally decided to give it a fair shake several years down the line, I wasn't expecting to like it all that much. Like I said earlier, I wasn't into horror at that time, so the fact that I even decided to watch it was out of the ordinary for me. I mainly watched it because it's so well-known, and as a budding movie fan, I figured I needed to watch it at some point. So I sat down to watch it and was blown away. I was impressed by how well it worked as both a slasher film, as well as a meta-commentary on the genre itself. The mix of self-awareness and bloodiness was just what I needed at the time, and eventually led me to re-evaluate my feelings on horror films.
Fast forward to the present day, and I am much more appreciative of the horror genre. Part of this is because I have been more adventurous as a film watcher, and have checked out films from various sub-genres of horror. While I am now more willing to watch horror films, I can't help but be a bit critical of certain aspects of the genre. Horror has evolved quite a bit since the late 2000s. While there are still several films released each year that fit a more conventional mold, there have also been filmmakers like Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, Jennifer Kent, and Robert Eggers that imbue their works with deeper themes and social commentary. I will admit that these "elevated horror" (a term I don't particularly care for) films tend to appeal to me more than the standard fare, but I digress. Furthermore, the film world at large has become heavily reliant on existing IP, especially when it comes to mainstream cinema. In the horror genre, this has shown itself in various remakes and reboots. I personally feel that this has led to laziness in film across the board, and I find this especially true when it comes to mainstream horror. Franchises that have long lay dormant have seen a return, with Halloween and Saw being two fairly recent examples. With this being a trend in recent releases, it makes sense that a new Scream movie would be coming out sooner or later. It's a successful franchise that is beloved by many, so if nothing else, it's likely to do well at the box office.
Despite this, I was still rather surprised when it was announced that this film was going to be made. This is primarily because I knew that this would be the first installment that legendary horror director Wes Craven would not be involved with. Craven sadly passed away in 2015, and left behind a great legacy. He directed all four Scream films, and it almost felt wrong to me that the franchise would continue without him. While it could be argued that screenwriter Kevin Williamson is the true architect of the series, Craven's involvement is just as important. The two are the driving creative force behind the movies, so it's hard to imagine a new film being made without either one of them. It stunned me even more that Williamson wasn't returning, as I absolutely could not see this film being good at all with new people at the helm. I only saw one trailer for this before I saw the actual movie, and I was pretty underwhelmed. I was afraid that this was going to be a disaster, and an all-time low for the franchise. But as I was watching this film, I was surprised by how well it maintained the spirit of the previous films. It took me back to watching the first Scream film all those years ago, as it managed to exceed my expectations, and be a fresh, subversive take on the horror genre, while also being a solid horror film in its own right.
As is customary for the franchise, this film is highly meta. Much like the original film, it focuses primarily on the current state of the horror genre. It takes aim at reboots and sequels, fan culture, and IP based filmmaking all throughout the film. While the commentary it is making is quite blunt, it fits the film quite well. It reckons with these concepts and makes a big statement about them, all the while not sacrificing any of the core elements of what makes this franchise as good as it is. It maintains the self-awareness of the past installments, and still makes sure to be a great slasher film in the process. I was highly impressed by how well screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick were able to capture that distinct blend of humor and horror that Williamson brought to the table with the other films. On top of that, I applaud them for being able to write a Scream film set in the age of smartphones, and still have it be just as thrilling as the earlier films are.
While the script is a huge part of why the film works as well as it does, I have to give credit to co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. I greatly enjoyed their previous film, 2018's Ready or Not, so this made the idea of a new Wes Craven-less Scream a bit easier to stomach. It's very clear that they have a great deal of respect for Craven and the Scream franchise, and they demonstrate this in their direction. It both honors Wes Craven, while also allowing them to add their distinct style in at various points of the film. It honestly leads to the best possible outcome for the film, as it is both a respectful tribute, while still feeling fresh and exciting.
Considering that the film is a legacy sequel, it comes as no surprise that there are a handful of familiar faces that we see throughout the film. Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette reprise their iconic roles, and are as great as always. Arquette in particular gets quite a bit to do here, and might give my favorite performance of the three, if not the film itself. As for the newcomers to the franchise, there is some great talent on display. Melissa Barrera is quite good as Sam, the de facto lead of the film, and has a great screen presence throughout the film. Jenna Ortega, who plays Sam's sister, really impressed me, and the role showcases her range nicely. The chemistry between Barrera and Ortega is also a highlight, and is a large part of the film's emotional core. I was also quite impressed by Mikey Madison, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Dylan Minnette, and Jack Quaid, all of whom take what could have been more archetypal roles and make them their own.
One of the biggest surprises of the film was how brutal it was. While the Scream films are slashers at heart, this film features some of the most graphic kills out of any of them. It's not like we're getting Quentin Tarantino levels of blood, but it's still pretty rough nonetheless. The scares are pretty solid all throughout, as it manages to subvert expectations at times, and find inventive ways to shock the audience. The film wisely avoids jumpscares, and relies mainly on the horror of the actual violence. This could have easily been done in a highly exploitative way, but the film lets the audience get the picture of what's happening without feeling gratuitous.
Most of my complaints are just nitpicks, mainly with little details in the writing, but I can't get too deep into them without getting into spoiler territory. What I can say is that I feel the film is hindered ever so slightly by trying to recapture the lightning in a bottle feeling of the original Scream, as it is more concerned with that at times rather than exploring anything new. It doesn't hurt it too badly, thankfully, and it comes rather close in certain moments, but it still stuck out to me. I will say that despite my quibbles, this does end up being one of the better sequels of the franchise. I think I prefer Scream 2 to Scream (2022) by just a bit, but I would definitely put it above Scream 4 and Scream 3.
I could not be more glad I ended up liking this film as much as I did. It's a great reminder of why I fell in love with the Scream franchise in the first place. It is a fresh, worthy continuation of the series, and maintains the heart and soul of it better than I could have ever imagined. It is such a reverent sequel, and has that same subversive spirit that is so integral to each installment. While nothing will ever top the original film, watching Scream (2022) is probably the closest I've come to feeling the same way I did when I first watched Scream (1996) all those years ago. It's such a lovely tribute to the work that Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson put into the previous films, and is an exciting step forward for the series. It wouldn't surprise me if a sixth film ends up getting made, but if it does, I hope the creative team from this film will be on board for it. Honestly, if the franchise ends with this film, it would be a nice send-off, but it wouldn't surprise me if we get more Scream movies in the future. Regardless, I will always hold a special place in my heart for this franchise, and feel that this particular entry is one of the more enjoyable horror films I have seen in a very long time.