| Reviewed by James Breach |
In an era where original movies in any genre are few and far between, I admit that when I saw there was a fifth Scream (1996) film on the way, I was extremely unsure if they could make it a worthwhile addition to the series. After the slasher redefining first entry, and the equally fun and well received Scream 2 (1997), it is widely accepted that Scream 3 (2000) was a franchise low point, beset with production issues, and suffering from an identity crisis more off-putting than half of the comedy it attempted to put on screen. This was followed up 11 years later by Scream 4 (2011) which, whilst being a distinct improvement on Scream 3, (having to date the most surprising killer reveal in Emma Roberts’ Jill), still felt like an unnecessary addition to a tired franchise.
My interest in the new entry was piqued, however, when I discovered that the ‘requel’ - as it's deemed (repeatedly) in the film - was being brought to life by Radio Silence, the team behind the terrific Samara Weaving-led Ready or Not (2019). For a series that made its name by subverting conventional expectations in horror, to be brought back by the creative minds behind a more modern subversive horror made me feel like there was a chance that they could take things in a new direction.
[Scream is] less worried about keeping you guessing and more concerned with how cool and fresh it is.
Sadly, after watching Scream (2022), I can say that Radio Silence mostly failed in their well-intentioned endeavours, producing a film that is, in many ways, TOO self aware and meta for its own good. This is at the expense of the ‘whodunnit’ aspect of the movie - usually my favourite part of these films - as, frankly, the killer (or maybe killers) is/are so clearly signposted that anyone could surely work it out using even the most basic of deductive reasoning skills on a first watch. I really don’t think they even tried to make it a surprise, as this seems to be a film less worried about keeping you guessing and more concerned with how cool and fresh it is. Even its name is in keeping with this, dropping the ‘5’ and following the ‘on trend’ idea of going back to its roots à la Halloween (2018). The film passes this off as a satire of the genre but, honestly, it doesn’t work.
All this being said, it would be remiss of me not to mention the positives that this film has going for it, and there are a few. There are neat references to horror in general, such as cast members driving down Elm Street. In perhaps the most on the nose, but forgivable reference, Dylan Minnette (of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why (2017-2020)), plays Wes, the son of the returning, now Sheriff Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton) and named after the late, great, master of the slasher genre and director of all four of the previous ‘Scream’ instalments – Wes Craven. Scream is a film for the fans in terms of ‘easter eggs’ and umpteen references to the series – from the characters almost running a stop sign in reference to Scream 4’s greatest asset, Kirby (Hayden Panettiere), to the Randy Meeks shrine in the home of Randy’s niece and nephew, Chad (Mason Gooding, son of Oscar winner Cuba) and Mindy (Jasmine Savoy Brown). There are some other easter eggs that the ‘Scream’ fandom has been waxing lyrical over since the film’s release. However, as I am endeavouring to keep the review spoiler free, I will omit the details and simply acknowledge that they are nice touches.
The acting of a portion of the ensemble is also above average. The ‘legacy’ characters, as it appears they are now to be referred to, are all back and turn in performances that show just how much their characters fit them like an old glove. David Arquette’s Dewy Riley, however, is certainly the star turn out of the returnees, playing a man who is outwardly a shadow of his former, bright and cheerful self - a result of many turns in his life, and an over reliance on a certain type of bottle. Through all of his suffering though, the Dewy that we know and love, with a kind heart, still manages to shine through and serve as the narrative foundation of the returning cast's involvement. Neve Campbell’s ultimate final girl Sydney Prescott and Courteney Cox’s fame and fortune hungry Gale Weathers - the remaining members of Scream’s original trifecta - both strut their proverbial stuff with equal efficiency. Past the obvious nostalgia, though, there is no real reason for the female leads to even be in this project, particularly if Dewy wasn’t there, as given its ‘requel’ nature (to quote Mindy ‘not quite a sequel, not quite a reboot’), Scream is really a film about passing the torch.
The ‘legacy’ characters ... are all back and turn in performances that show just how much their characters fit them like an old glove.
Said torch, in this case, appears to be taken on by new lead Sam Carpenter (Mexican actress Melissa Barrera). Whether this actually turns out to be the case, of course, is something I won't spoil. What I will say, however, is that I was far from won over with the character of Sam; her personality just did not fit the style of movie that ‘Scream 2022’ is and Melissa Barrera’s acting is all over the place. Honestly, I didn’t manage to invest almost any energy in caring about or, indeed, even liking her character, even if some of her background should have made her a fascinating addition to the proceedings. I really felt that this was a wonderful opportunity to get Samara Weaving into a mainstream, big budget film, and finally give her the exposure she richly deserves – sadly, an opportunity missed.
The rest of the new group of would-be victim/killers are formed of Sam’s boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid – son of Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan), Sam’s sister Tara (Jenna Ortega), Tara’s best friend/love interest Amber (Mikey Madison), Liv (Sonia Ammar), and the previously mentioned trio of Sheriff Hick’s son Wes and Randy’s niece and nephew Mindy and Chad.
Many people seem to believe that the standout amongst the new cast is Jasmine Savoy Brown’s Mindy, a character with more than a hint of her uncle about her, and the resident horror movie buff/light entertainment provider. However, again, I just didn’t really like her very much; it should be said I liked her an awful lot more than Sam, but not enough to make her my favourite character in the film. After watching Scream, I did take the time to look into some of Savoy Brown’s other work, though, and found her turn in last year’s abstract horror offering Sound of Violence (2021) - for all its gore and off-putting imagery - a much more commanding and sympathetic performance, from an actress who clearly has a lot going for her.
Liv is painted as Ghostface fodder from the start, and Chad is the jock with a heart we have seen so much of over the years.
For my money, the standout amongst the newer characters is Jack Quaid’s Richie. Richie actually made me laugh as the ‘is-he-or-isn’t-he?’ red herring-style love interest. He also seemed the most relatable (most likely as he was somewhat older than the main group of students) and felt the most rounded character. I have always enjoyed Quaid’s performances in The Boys (2019 - ) TV series, with his goofy nature, and Richie is, for the most part, exactly what you would expect.
Looking at the rest of the cast, Amber, the dark and broody best friend of Tara (or possibly, love interest - it is never really clarified) is a pretty decent piece of work from Mikey Madison who, after playing one of Charles Manson’s disciples in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019), is no stranger to ‘dark and broody’ as a character trait. Amber is always just a little bit off-putting, and her overprotective nature towards Tara actually did have me doing the only piece of killer guessing in the 2-hour screening (again, no reveals).
Wes is really the only new character who doesn’t seem to be based on anyone from previous instalments. He’s not quite the jock and not quite the geek, but an interesting hybrid of the two. His interactions with Mother Judy are some of the sweeter and funnier parts of the film as a whole, but Minnette wasn’t really given a full enough character to develop for me to really be able to say whether Wes fell on the right or wrong side of my expectations for him.
Loved up teen couple Chad and Liv do not really bring much to the picture for most of its run time either. Liv is painted as Ghostface fodder from the start, and Chad is the jock with a heart we have seen so much of over the years. These characters have the odd moment, namely Chad making what could be seen as the smartest decision made in horror in recent years, by refusing to ‘go upstairs’ with Liv at a party as he’s ‘not entirely certain that she’s not the killer’. This is both funny and sensible, and whilst Liv shows the expected level of strop such a comment would elicit, it is the sort of thinking often lacking in these films.
The 2022 Scream is a film that misses its main selling point – to be a murder mystery.
This brings me to Tara, who I just couldn’t stand at all. Again, many viewers and reviewers seem to like her, but I found her storyline ridiculously unrealistic, her character whiny beyond belief and Jenna Ortega’s portrayal of her as helpless and pathetic, then strong and capable, extremely grating. I have never wanted a character to meet Ghostface’s knife, but if I had to choose one: Tara – to the head of the class you go.
Overall, maybe I am being a bit nit-picky and precious with this film. After all, the original Scream and Scream 2 were probably my main introduction to the horror genre that I have grown to love so much. To see the franchise being modernised and appearing so cocksure and vaguely egotistical feels wrong. That said, however, no amount of preciousness can detract from the fact that, aside from it feeling comforting to revisit the returning cast, and meet a couple of the newer ensemble, the 2022 Scream is a film that misses its main selling point – to be a murder mystery. The red herrings are as obvious as the killers, the motive mind-numbingly stupid, and the over reliance on mixing the old with the new, instead of actually DOING something new, makes for a well-intentioned but ultimately ill-judged experience.