As is by now obligatory, the fifth and latest entry in the Scream series (simply titled Scream, paying no mind to its sequel status) starts with a character being asked ‘do you like scary movies?’ over the phone. Yet, in 2022, that question has a new complexity, classic slashers competing for space with A24-style ‘elevated horror’ that this film’s first victim confesses to preferring. Have no fears that Scream is trying to muscle in on Hereditary’s territory, though. This five-quel (or ‘re-quel’, as its own characters dub it) may not have the sadly departed Wes Craven on board, but it’s still absolutely in the spirit of the original four, a mean and violent slasher that’s meta to a fault.
A decade after the last Ghostface haunting, Scream returns us to the town of Woodsboro, where a new generation of victims and possible killers is beset by the masked maniac. Our hero is Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), forced to return to Woodsboro after her estranged sister is attacked by the new Ghostface to figure out who’s behind it and protect the town. Of course, this being a Scream movie, the detective work is predicated upon an intimate knowledge of horror-movie rules and a very meta analysis of all the suspects.
New directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, alongside new writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, use this self-reflection everywhere, from the plotting of the mystery itself to commentating upon this Scream’s own status as a legacy sequel (even berating themselves for not putting a number 5 in the title). It’s generally a lot of fun, although it can be too wink-wink for its own good, especially towards the ending, and a conscious rehashing of the Last Jedi debate feels a bit tired.
Of course, all this high-concept stuff has to be matched by some actual grisly kills, and Scream mostly delivers on this front too. It could have been a little scarier on the whole, but there are some fun jump scares and fake-outs, while Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett give some real weight to the set-pieces. You viscerally feel the stabs and lunges, rage and terror coming from both the killer and the victims. One of Scream’s great strengths has always been the fallibility of the killer themselves – once, say, Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees corners a victim, the only question left is exactly how the kill is going to play out, but Ghostface’s distinct humanness keeps the tension to the bitter, bloody end.
Other than Barrera and Jack Quaid as Sam’s comic-relief boyfriend Richie, the new cast members don’t make a huge impression – one couple in particular drop out of your mind completely as soon as they leave the screen – but Scream seems pretty aware of this, giving the lion’s share of the drama to the returning veterans. Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courteney Cox are all good value, especially Arquette, while the film’s hero-worship of them feels less cloying than it might in another franchise, thanks to their characters’ status as in-universe legends.
At the fifth time of asking, the Scream well does feel like it’s running a little dry, and the mystery of who the killer is here reveals its hand a little too early, but for slasher fans this is still a very fun murder-fest, made with a clear love for the genre. As the first major release of 2022, it sets the bar at a comfortably enjoyable middle, and has already made some decent money, laying the groundwork for hopefully the most cinematically ‘normal’ year since 2019.