All of the films in the Scream franchise have paired their horror/comedy stylings with some manner of commentary on society, and the targets have ranged from people looking to scapegoat horror movies to social media users craving instant stardom. 2022’s Scream (aka Scream 5) channels that self-awareness and aims its razorsharp crosshairs into an overdue takedown of horror “fans” themselves — both the dummies who use the term “elevated horror” as an elitist approach to the genre, and the assholes who feel dangerously entitled to art they had no hand in creating. Do the mystery thrills and bloody spills stack up as well? Sadly, no, but there’s still a fair amount of fun to be had with this new generation’s visit to Woodsboro.
Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) is home alone and waiting for a friend’s arrival when a phone call from a stranger sends her night reeling. Small-talk and mention of Tara’s mother soon turns to questions about scary movies and a life or death offer to play a trivia game. One wrong answer later, and Ghostface is plunging a blade into her flesh. She survives, and her encounter draws a handful of visitors to town. Her estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) is among them, joined by her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid), and a few more familiar faces aren’t too far behind. As bodies start dropping left and right, both newcomers and old friends go knife tip to knife tip with a black-robed killer in a ghostface mask.
The late, great Wes Craven has a few franchises to his name, but while both The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare on Elm Street saw later entries/remakes directed by others, Craven held the helm through all four Scream films from 1996 through 2011. His death in 2015 meant any further sequels would break that trend, and that time has come with Scream 5. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett follow up their fantastic feature debut, 2019’s Ready or Not, with a horror/comedy that has a stronger pedigree but a far less satisfying execution. They’re hampered by a script (from two more newcomers to the Scream fold, James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick) that feels like it’s trying perhaps too hard to match what’s come before rather than stand on its own.
To be fair, that return to the original is the aim of Scream 5 as echoed by a character’s breakdown of the “requel” concept — part remake, part sequel, it’s a film that brings back legacy characters/storylines to bolster new leads and future films. It’s a wobbly balance that doesn’t always work as returning characters alternately feel like window dressing or square pegs being pounded into round holes. Former sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) finds a natural fit looking haggard and living out of a bottle, but the eventual (and expected) arrival of Gail Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) lack a similar character shift. The first four films tell Sidney’s story, but here she’s just passing through.
That’s fine in theory, as again, it’s a requel, but we’re not given much of a replacement here. The bulk of the new characters feature a direct tie to old ones, but while most are innocuous, Sam’s boils down to a central plot point that also leaves her saddled with visions of a certain deceased character — who engages her in short conversations. It’s an element that feels far removed from the “reality” of Scream‘s world, and it’s one Barrera has difficulty selling. Ortega fares far better and exhibits tangible fear during her attack, and the other new faces (Dylan Minnette, Mikey Madison, Sonia Ammar, Mason Gooding, and Jasmin Savoy Brown) all find varying degrees of engagement. Brown is the film’s standout, though, as the new Randy (Jamie Kennedy) spouting rules and cracking wise about horror movies.
Ultimately, Scream‘s biggest issue is the lack of a real whodunnit element. The past four films all succeed at muddying the suspect waters enough that viewers will find themselves shifting their suspicions up until the reveal (or reveals as the case may be) resulting in gasps, smiles, and dropped jaws. Rewatches of 1996’s original might leave you feeling stupid for not immediately suspecting both Billy and Stu and holding fast to that belief, but that shows just how good Craven’s filmmaking and Kevin Williamson’s script truly is. Red herrings abound, and the same is true for the three sequels which leave viewers guessing and uncertain through to the end. Scream 5 drops that ball hard, though, and the killer(s) is/are almost immediately identifiable and remain(s) that way with no room for doubt until the final reveal. It’s a major disappointment for a film that otherwise wants to kick start something new and modern.
But enough about what doesn’t work in Scream 5… as mentioned at the start there’s definitely fun to be found here. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett shoot an energetic and attractive genre film here finding suspense in chase scenes and having visible fun along the way. One cheeky bit sees them play with the trope of jump scares involving doors and doorways while others see visual riffs on the original film. The 90s always feel within arms reach by design — just check out Minnette’s bleach job! The kills are bloody, the needle drops are appropriate, and the film uses the franchise’s history and reactions to recent requels to land some killer blows.
“How can fandom be toxic?” asks an agitated character, and it’s a question meant to be rhetorical both in and out of Scream. Anyone who’s paid even the slightest attention to pop culture and franchise fandoms over the past few years knows just how easy it is for keyboard warriors to work themselves into a frothy, masturbatory frenzy over perceived slights against their favorite movies, characters, and storylines. From Star Wars and Ghostbusters fanatics angry about new films, to fans “demanding” the release of versions that honor their favorite directors’ visions, audiences in the internet age have shown themselves to be real pricks. Scream 5 calls them out as the babies they are while imagining an exaggerated, worst-case scenario that feels like a suitable follow-up to the emerging online presence of Scream 4‘s killers.
2022’s Scream satisfies well enough for audiences looking for slasher thrills on the big screen, and there’s room to grow with future installments. The opportunity to move away from the source material’s central characters would provide filmmakers the chance to move away from Craven’s very large shadow.