Ten years after the release of its last sequel, Wes Craven’s meta-horror franchise is back with a vengeance in 2022’s Scream, directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olphin and Tyler Gillett with a screenplay written by frequent collaborators James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick.
A direct sequel to 2011’s surprisingly good Scream 4, the fifth instalment of the franchise sees audiences return to Woodsboro as yet another deranged local dons the Ghostface mask and robes to terrorise the town 25 years after the events that started it all. Much like the original, Scream opens on a quaint looking house where high schooler Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) is home alone and, just as fans know it will, the landline rings. Forced to answer trivia questions about the fictional movie Stab (based on the events of the first film), Tara is brutally attacked by the Ghostface killer. Unlike its predecessors, Tara, though badly injured, survives and the attack forces her estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) to return home and face the demon of Woodsboro.
There’s honestly a lot to like about Scream. Billed as a relaunch, or as the characters would call it a ‘requel’, Scream revisits many of the best parts of the original with the fresh lens of a more modernised society. Like all the films before it, Scream marked the return of franchise stars Neve Campbell as the quintessential final girl Sidney Prescott, Courteney Cox as the intrepid Gale Weathers, and David Arquette as a now retired Dewey Riley, but unlike a lot of sequels, this Scream really isn’t about them. Bettinelli-Olphin and Gillett make a conscious effort to give fans of the franchise something new to chew on by including Sidney, Gale and Dewey as bit players only; we already know their story, so what else do they have to give the film beyond ticking the nostalgia box? They’re the bay leaf of characters: added for seasoning but not for consumption.
In addition to the franchise’s ‘big 3’ returning, it is revealed that this new batch of teens are all somehow linked to the characters from the preceding films; twins Chad and Mindy Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown respectively) are the niece and nephew of ill-fated Randy Meeks, Wes Hicks (Dylan Minnette) is the son of Woodsboro Deputy Judy Hicks from Scream 4, Sam hallucinates having conversations with Billy Loomis (played by a digitally de-aged Skeet Ulrich), and Amber Freeman (Mikey Madison) lives in Stu Macher’s house where the original’s third act took place. Finally, the cast is rounded out by Sam’s boyfriend Richie Kirsch (Jack Quaid) who fills the role of the ‘rules guy’.
One of the things that Bettinelli-Olphin and Gillett have done really well for Scream is the suspense build. As any genre fan knows, suspense is just as important in a horror film as the violence and mayhem because without it the other elements aren’t as effective. Using a great many visual red herrings, tight close-ups that limit the audience’s scope of vision, and multi-layered sets like the dark and moody hospital and Stu’s murder house, the jump scares in Scream are able to maintain their punch, despite their predictability. This is essentially a film we’ve all seen before, but the moments still get you and leave you feeling satisfied.
Scream as a franchise is extremely likeable due to its meta elements and ability to mock itself for the tropes it partakes in; Bettinelli-Olphin and Gillett’s Scream thankfully does not deviate from this.
In a nod to Scream 4, this new batch of teens are all extremely aware of how these events play out thanks to the film-within-a-film franchise Stab. They know that the wannabe killer is likely one or more of their own, and this is what helps to create a lot of the film’s comedy and tension. And much like the films of franchise past, these kids are fans of the genre – but the conversations are now less slasher-centric and their praise is targeted at elevated horror films like 2014’s The Babadook and Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us. It’s a fun tongue-in-cheek criticism at the place slashers have in the genre, as more fans start to turn away from ‘traditionally’ grotesque films and into the arms of horror stories that tap into very real and human experiences.
Any franchise fan knows that it’s difficult for a sequel to live up to an original, but Scream does its best and at many points it definitely succeeds. While it’s sad that this latest instalment couldn’t be helmed by the late Wes Craven himself, Bettinelli-Olphin and Gillett have crafted a loving tribute to the creator and the series which should satisfy fans.