The movie that brought meta front and center to horror, and gave an adrenaline boost to a tired slasher genre is back with its fifth installment. The movie remains meta, and brings a fresh new group of victims… I mean characters… to the screen, along with a few old familiar friends. Is it any good? For a feature this significant it takes all three of the Scariest Things Podcasters to weigh in.
In 1996, Wes Craven realized that the sub-genre that he helped define in the 1980s with A Nightmare on Elm Street, realized that his own creation was getting a bit long in the tooth. The slasher film was becoming repetitive and predictable, vulnerable to tropes used so frequently that they became cliches and fell victim to the rapid release pattern of horror sequels. His first attempt to reflect upon the state of the horror union was Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare, but it took a little movie called Scream to really bathe in the winking world of meta-horror.
Ironically, the Scream franchise itself ran out of steam as the reflective commentary gradually eroded the original bite that the first Scream brought to the table. Still, the franchise has generally been looked upon favorably over the years, even if a lot of people can’t peg what happened in the third and fourth installments. Twenty-six years later, the franchise has been given another chance.
Gone, of course, is Wes, who passed away in 2015. He has been replaced by the talented team from the directing team of Radio Silence, Matt Bettinelli-Olipin, and Tyler Gillet, who have given us a roster of fine horror films, Ready or Not, V/H/S, and Southbound. Tackling a touchstone franchise is a tricky risk, but for a team with the experience of Radio Silence, they know all the tropes to bring the winks and easter eggs.
Returning are the stalwart survivors. David Arquette returns as the decidedly more disheveled Dewey, living in a trailer and no longer a sheriff. Courteney Cox is also back as news anchor Gale Weathers, now having moved on to a bigger job in NYC. And, of course, ultimate final girl Neve Campbell returns as the now hardened last woman standing, Sidney Prescott. Also of note, Skeet Ulrich is back, with de-aging technology as the ghost of Billy Loomis, the killer from the original, and Roger Jackson has also returned to provide the telephone voice of the Ghost Face Killer. Not a spoiler. Ghost Face is back.
The trio has returned to Woodsboro as Ghost Face encounter has once again made headlines. Ghost Face has attacked Tara, a teenager home alone, using almost a verbatim technique as was displayed in the 1996 opening scene, but with a tech upgrade. Interestingly enough, there is still a landline in the house. And, again, no parents within hundreds of miles. Gotta stick with those old trope chestnuts!
Tara has miraculously survived the encounter, bringing Tara’s exiled sister, Sam (Melissa Barerra), and her well-meaning and Netflix-obsessed boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) to check in on her. Lots of drama ensues, as the estranged sisters have some catching up and hashing out of long-held bitter sentiments. Who dunnit? There are plenty of suspects abound, as once again there is a tight-knit group of Tara’s friends who all are potential suspects. Yes, the dominos have been set up very much like the original film with this installment, complete with the necessary know-it-all horror movie fan who gets to revisit the tropes for those who need a refresher course.
Ghost Face… or perhaps Ghost Faces… continue a murderous spree, thinning down the list of suspects as innocent victims fall prey to the plunging hunting knife. And, it all comes down to a big final showdown where the killer is revealed and new heroes are made.
So… does it do the original film justice? Is this worth your hard-earned money?
Eric’s Review: ★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
For someone who LOVES the tropes, it pains me to say this, but this is a very average horror movie. It’s not awful, but it doesn’t go anywhere new. The movie is predictable, and it acknowledges its own formulaic process. It presents and foreshadows almost every move that gets made. Picking the killer from the roster of suspects isn’t that difficult, though many attempts at deflection are made. Repeat viewings may actually reveal weaknesses in the killer’s alibis.
The veteran actors are up to their usual standard of somewhere between pretty-good to non-offensive. Jack Quaid (the son of Melanie Griffith and Dennis Quaid and star of The Boys) is probably the best thing of the new cast, as his character is amusing and he is one of the few characters with much of an arc to it. If you watch some of the promo materials, you know the reverence that these actors have for the original, and they don’t lack earnest efforts.
It is a bummer, though, that the handoff from the old cast to the new cast leaves the franchise in the hands of characters who lack charisma. Tara and Sam do not generate the empathy required to make an emotional connection with this audience member. I always say that the most important thing for a horror movie to be successful is to have a vested interest in seeing what happens to the protagonists. It does not help that our two young leads are at odds with each other for most of the movie, and it is more irritating than endearing. It also does not help that they are TERRIBLE decision-makers. Putting the puzzle pieces together and determining a self-preservation strategy are not their strong suits.
On the positive side, the knowledge of the film writers and directors is displayed when introducing the updated version of meta-horror. There is a wonderful bit where when asked the now-famous line “Do you like scary movies?” Tara responds by admitting she likes The Babadook and other “Elevated” horror movies like Hereditary, It Follows, and The Witch. Ooooo! The truth hurts for a snarky movie reviewer! Also, when the needed exposition comes to do full meta breakdown, the horror junkie, this time played by Jasmin Savoy Brown as Mindy, does the full analysis of the current trends of re-quels, like Halloween, Candyman, and yes… Star Wars are doing. Part fresh, part fan service. Wink wink. Nod nod. Yes, this movie is exactly a re-quel. Scream has updated its trope catalog references.
But, except for that wonderful bit of Scream savvy exposition, there is a whole lot of awful monologuing going on. So much explaining. Much less doing. Evil gets a chance to crow at great length, even when the smart thing to do as the titular killer would be to go for the quick kills, except, of course, we are now down to the main course, and the main protagonists are not allowed to get killed without plenty of gloating and ‘splaining. Yeah, that too is part of the Scream tradition, and it’s not a good one.
Perhaps my favorite part of the movie was a really small thing, and don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler. There was a moment when Wes (Dylan Minette) is obviously being stalked, and he is going through his kitchen to prep for dinner, and he keeps opening and closing doors. There is a cheap jump scare tradition that when a door innocuously opens and then closes, the bad guy gets revealed. Scream brought the ominous music up preparing the audience for the cheapie jump scare and refused to do it. That made m applaud. That is Scream at its best. The writers and directors know all the levers to pull for the trope gag, and subverted expectations in the right way, and it entertained me to no end. It’s the small things, sometimes.
If you can handle a lot of exposition, and idiot actions by teenagers who should know better, you’ll probably find something to like with Scream. It’s bloody, but not horrifically bloody and cruel like Halloween Kills. Lots of leg stabs, gut stabs, and back stabs… but no eviscerations or mutilations. So it earns its R-rating, but it isn’t stomach-churning violence. Those who want more severe gore might be left wanting a little more creativity in the splatter department.
Liz’s Review: ★★ out of ★★★★★
Full disclosure: I love the original Scream. It is on my top 25 list, I am almost exactly the same age as the original characters (yeah, class of 1995!), I put Sidney Prescott as my #1 final girl in our podcast episode LXXV discussion and the 90’s is my safe place, so I don’t know if it’s possible for me to give this film a fair review because I will always compare it to the original. Maybe I’m just not ready to accept that 1996 was 26 years ago and I’m having a hard time “passing the torch” to a younger generation but this one hurts and it all came down to how much I disliked the main character Sam, played by Melissa Barerra, and her incredibly lackluster performance. Moreover, this film does nothing new and adds nothing to the Scream franchise so I am hard-pressed to say why it was even made (probably money).
I’ll try to say something nice though: there were some fun, gory kills and it was nice to see Sidney, Gale, and Dewey again, and naming Dylan Minnette’s character “Wes” was a heartfelt tribute to the biggest missing piece here- Wes Craven.
Mike’s Review: ★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Anything can overstay its welcome. Your best friend. Your great aunt. A plate of nachos. And, sadly, a great horror franchise.
It’s not so much that the once-vaunted Scream has overstayed its welcome its problem lies in the fact that it doesn’t offer anything new. Sure it changed the horror fandom nomenclature to focus on “requels” and “elevated horror” but these are largely the same clever devices that they brought to the table 26 years ago. Sheesh, we’re getting old….
To be sure, there are some great laughs in the latest installment of Scream. Some of the dissections of modern horror are exceptionally insightful. And, there’s even a wonderful dichotomy of a (semi) analog phone juxtaposed against a mobile phone. But, 2022’s Scream offers very little substance after you cut right below the surface.
In particular, once you get past Sidney, Gale, and Dewey, there are very few likable or interesting characters that could carry the Scream torch into the 2020s, or god forbid, the 2030s. Mason Gooding, the hunky jock, does have a great screen presence and is rather likable, but spoiler alert, he’s the victim of the old stab/stab/stab.
Scream also falls prey to the same self-referential trope that it editorializes about and becomes too much of a good thing. Just as too many jump scares become boorish, so too does the constant drumbeat of meta-horror monologues. Being clever once or twice can be smart and judicious, but when it’s laid out in each scene it becomes a tired exercise of being the “smartest guy in the room.”
Ultimately, 2022’s Scream paints itself into a very awkward corner. The killer(s) are forced to lay out their dastardly plan, but because the film does little to foreshadow some of its elements, the rationale comes off as a hyper-convoluted exposition dump. It’s neither understandable nor believable.
If you are a Scream completist, by all means, finish all the films on the list. If, on the other hand, you’re just looking for a fun romp at the movies, rent the 1996 Scream and take a stab at it.