Author’s note: There will be no spoilers. Read on with confidence.
“A man has an idea. The idea attracts others, like-minded. The idea expands. The idea becomes the institution.”
— Top Dollar (Michael Wincott), The Crow
When Wes Craven’s Scream debuted in theaters in the winter of 1996, it was quite an anomaly. Firstly, who releases a non-Christmas-themed horror movie during the holiday season? Second, the big-name star in the film dies in the opening minutes, which – at the time – was unthinkable. (This movie turned 25 on 12/20/21. If you’re yelling, “Hey! Liar! Spoilers!”, you had 25 years. Not my fault.) Third, Kevin Williamson’s smart (and very smartass) script redefined and revitalized a genre beset by tepid sequels and boring films. Best of all, it relit the flames for a whole new generation of horror fans with its combination of meta-humor and dead serious stakes.
Scream went from being an upstart outlier to bearing the gold standard by which teen horror films are judged. No slight is meant by the opening quote; in fact, it highlights the vast effect Scream has had upon the horror world. Countless imitators have come and gone, and three sequels of differing (but still terrific) quality have furthered this film’s legacy. However, as it’s old enough to have become an institution, the series now continues with a same-titled sequel, Scream (which will be referred to as Scream ’22 for this review), a willing participant in its own self-satirization as well as being a wild and terrifying celebration of all that has come before.
Of this attempt at daring to go up against the canon set up by Craven and Williamson, only this can be said: They got it right. From the nods to horror legends (listen for several character names that might sound familiar) to a hilarious casting stunt (which isn’t exactly horror-related) to successfully emulating certain shots by original cinematographers Mark Irwin and Peter Deming to making sure we feel the terror coming through the screen as well as the laughs, they got it right. This film could have gone wrong in so many ways, but James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick’s script contains a confidence nurtured and honed by directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (collectively known as Radio Silence). It’s a solid confidence that saturates everything, from the actors to the production design to the photography to Tyler Bates’ fantastic score.
Much like The Matrix Resurrections (filmed at relatively the same time), Scream ’22 spends most of its time blithely mocking itself and the genre it spawned while making bold statements about how movies are consumed. It’s been a constant theme throughout the series, but with current-day keyboard cowboys demanding their way from movie studios and creators, fandom has turned from a live-and-let-live mentality into more of a jagged blade wielded by both appreciators and detractors alike. And, holy crap, Scream ’22 is here for all of it, hellbent on shredding our expectations with the sharpest chef’s or hunter’s knives they can find.
Where Scream dissected the horror genre and its conventions, Scream ’22 lobs a loving truth bomb at the fans, even fans of the Scream series themselves – and you know what they say about the truth: It hurts. The film’s themes target the kind of fandom that makes people uneasy: the people who disregard the line between art and artist, insisting they know more than the creative teams who suffer damaging slings and arrows trying to get their best version of their vision in front of an audience. Grown-ass people who believe that any new stories should cater to them and only them, and that beloved film series sequels aren’t allowed to try to break new ground or tell any kinds of different stories.
Scream ’22 commits itself wholly to a delicate balancing act between staying in the familiar and branching out, even if the film uses time-honored horror tropes to make its new forays. Of course, we’re expecting series mainstays Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), and Dwight “Dewey” Riley (David Arquette) to return and kick the hell out of a new Ghostface (returning voice actor Roger L. Jackson) who’s targeting a group of Woodsboro High School friends, eerily similar to their situation 25 years ago. And as this is a Scream film, you can count on red herrings galore, homages to horror films and creators (especially legendary series director Wes Craven, going so far as to give his first name to one character), and more in-universe jokes than you could possibly hope for.
The new Woodsboro High crew is written as a tougher, more savvy version of the folks surrounding Sidney way back when, showing their protective sides when one of their own, Tara (Jenna Ortega) falls victim to a violent encounter with Ghostface in the pre-title cold open. And when Tara’s estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barerra) comes back to Woodsboro to be with her, we see how strong their bond is; it feels thicker than the prickly friendship between Sidney and her friends. They’re as much of a family as can be, considering they had to be her siblings when Sam couldn’t, and when Ghostface starts picking them off one at a time, you can’t help but feel sorrowful for these well-developed characters who manage to mean so much in so little time.
Vanderbilt and Busick’s script honors the series veterans, their characters, and the journeys they have been on since 1996. It’s difficult to find fault with Scream ’22 when it leans completely into the visual and written language created by the original in both subtle and overt ways, resulting in an almost comfort food-like enjoyability that defies any preconceived notions of what should go into a new Scream chapter. Sure, there are the series touchstones (e.g., the opening phone call, the games the killer plays, someone opening a door with the possibility of the killer being on the other side, and the constant hints and allegations pointing to who the killer is – or isn’t) which always have to be a part of the fun, but those are also toyed with and turned inside-out, and there’s a feeling of relief that comes along with Radio Silence’s careful execution of these series staples.
It’s a care that comes from an obvious love for established lore and a vast, studied understanding of what makes the Scream series tick. True, having series creator Kevin Williamson on board as executive producer helps, but if anyone could pick up the mantle left by the late Wes Craven, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett have more than proven they can. Scream ’22 is an excellent entry in the pantheon, being everything a Scream movie should be: shudderingly tense, upsetting in powerful ways, comedically funny with a razor-sharp and dark edge… and, most of all, scary.