My notes on Scream (2022). Very mild spoilers.
The Wes Craven/Kevin Williamson Scream trilogy (1996-2000) has already been extended in Craven’s Scre4m (2011) and a three-season TV series add-on (pretty good). Now, the Ready or Not duo of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett – who also made the less notable Devil’s Due – are entrusted with a franchise revival which wittily latches onto the current trend for like-named ‘requels’ – at once a sequel and a reboot and a back-to-the-original bid for renewed commercial visibility after a series slide into non-theatrical oblivion – epitomised by the likes of the recent Halloween, Candyman, etc.
Scre4m slightly missed its chance to make much fun of the remake craze current when it came out – it would have made more sense to call that Scream and be about killers staging a remake of the original movie. However, it got in early on the social media, youtube celebrity, reduced-attention-span angles which therefore get put to one side in this entry, since that ground has been covered by Assassination Nation, Tragedy Girls and others. Instead, the script by eclectic journeyman James Vanderbilt (The Losers, Zodiac, the Amazing Spider-Man films, Independence Day Resurgence) and genre buff Guy Busick (Ready or Not, Castle Rock) reprises much of the original Scream. Legacy characters (referred to as such) get tipped in as younger, less-distinctive types go through much the same story, even ending up in the same Woodsboro home where the final killings took place in Craven’s original. It does have a witty, up-to-the-moment context in that these Scream killers turn out to be fans of the Stab franchise – which, in the universe of the films, consists of a series of films inspired by the Ghostface massacres of each instalment – who are infuriated by Sta8*, a childhood-ruining entry directed by ‘the Knives Out guy’, and their murder spree is an acting-out of sub-reddit ire (‘how can fandom be toxic?’ one whines) at ‘mary sues’ (despite the fact that the Stab version of Sidney Prescott probably fits into that category) and the like. However, the film holds back on the most toxic aspects of toxic fandoms – so that these psychopathic kill-crazies somehow don’t have opinions on race or gender as vile as, say, the worst Star Wars or comic book fans.
In the traditional ‘what’s your favourite scary movie?’ quiz, these Ghostfaces are annoyed at the heroine who prefers ‘elevated horror’ and cites The Babadook as her choice. There are a few other nice footnotes, like the way the live-or-die quiz stakes are now lowered because the prospective victim can consult IMDb on her smartphone while being asked Stab movie trivia over the landline. But it sadly matches the underlying dourness that gives many requels a certain flat affect – the murders are, as Craven made them, genuinely nasty, but the new directors can’t match Craven’s superb suspense orchestration and the new screenwriters haven’t Williamson’s knack for mixing comedic patter with shock. As a whodunit, the film follows all the others in being clever, intricate and well worked-out but also so callous that the eventual revelations of guilt have no weight – everyone here is shallow and cruel, so the any could be a killer and the old Agatha Christie trick of having two murderers working in secret cahoots means that everyone has a scene with a cloaked, masked killer to ‘prove’ that they aren’t the stabber.
Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox are back in reduced roles, perhaps because the usual back-in-town-and-danger-again gambit of these things was covered in Scre4m – and the newbies are Melissa Barrera as Sam Carpenter, who has visions of original Scream killer Billy (Skeet Ulrich), and Jenna Ortega as her sister Tara, who has the Drew Barrymore role but fits into the later story in a relatively fresh manner … with Jack Quaid (flashing a smile reminiscent of his father in Are You in the House Alone?), Dylan Minnette, Jasmin Savoy-Brown, Sonia Ammar, Mikey Madison and Mason Gooding as a slightly more racially/sexually diverse victim/suspect crew. The wicked glee and masterly scarecraft of the original trilogy is much missed – I suspect I’ll warm to it a bit after repeat viewings (I find more to like in Scre4m than I did when I first saw it) but the new Scream strikes me on a first impression as less fun, pertinent and surprising than the new Slumber Party Massacre.
*A joke title I suggested in my Sight & Sound review of Scre4m.