Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillet
Stars: Jenna Ortega, David Arquette, Melissa Barrera
Like a snake eating its own tail, the only reason that the fifth Scream movie isn’t called Scream 5 is so that it can make a self-referential joke about this decision.
Yes, the oh-so-meta comedy slasher franchise is back from the dead once again, unfeasibly outliving prior maestro Wes Craven, now handed over to the impressive duo who brought us Ready or Not. As calling cards go, that one’s pretty great. Certainly great enough to dispel any misgivings about their ability to handle the legacy of Ghostface. But, sadly, this tired series hasn’t just lost Craven, but also it’s sense of humour, and sense of purpose.
Kevin Williamson was a big part of what made Scream, Scream 2 and, yes, Scream 4 so successful. The genre-savvy dialogue was a little arch, sure, but he also had a way with character and – even more importantly – he managed to balance light but involving drama with a sense of popcorn pacing and wit. It’s telling that Scream 3 – almost universally dogged on – landed in the hands of another scribe. But say what you will about Ehren Kruger’s effort, it at least brought the silly.
The Scream of 2022 takes itself incredibly seriously. After a spirited stab (sorry) at the traditional cold open (in which Jenna Ortega’s Tara has to deal with the prank calls of our latest iteration of Ghostface… but survives to tell the tale), Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet lock the audience down for a solid hour of soap opera drama as the latest batch of fresh-faced young hopefuls try to make themselves memorable.
Where previous sequels have managed to do this with some level of success, Scream ’22 flounders. With it’s ‘legacy characters’ left to the peripheries, we’re keenly invited into the life of Tara’s older sister Sam (Melissa Barrera), who is drawn back to Woodsboro by her sibling’s misfortune, concerned boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) in tow. Arriving in town, the two start trying to sleuth out who the killer(s) are, eyeing Tara’s circle of tokenistic Gen-Z friends and soliciting the help of a now-retired Dewey (David Arquette).
The screenplay by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick tries earnestly to get us invested in a wealth of new bodies, but the methodology is haphazard. Scream ’22 barely keeps the motor running as we sit through interchangeable teen problems, sentimental reunions and teary confessionals. Vanderbilt and Busick do try to resurrect the series’ trademark self-referential chatter, but the more the movie points out how tired ‘re-quels’ are – and how enslaved to the needs to precious fans – the more it announces its own redundancy. Scream ’22 wants to fall in with the recent Halloween films, where the measure of success seems to be box office alone. In fact, the way this movie talks with relentless disdain about horror movies makes me wonder if Vanderbilt and Busick even like them.
In keeping with David Gordon Green’s efforts, there’s an urge to go mean that doesn’t quite tessellate with the sense of fun that this serious previously coveted. Scream has always been a bloody affair, but Scream ’22 pushes a little further, a little harder. It leaves a sour taste that mutes the effectiveness of a brand of humour that’s, frankly, old hat now. It also goes hard – too hard – on the series’ whodunnit element, fixating on it’s own in-built paranoia until each and every character is frozen in a state of bugged-out fear.
The franchise’s old guard Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Marley Shelton and the aforementioned David Arquette are here. Can’t have a re-quel without links to the OG now, can you? But they have even less to do than in Scream 4, and – Arquette aside – nobody seems credibly like they want to be here. Among the new blood, and in spite of the above, there are a couple of charmers. Quaid brings an agreeable sense of exasperation to Richie’s sarcasm, while both Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown at least try to keep the energy up.
But, as Scream ’22 comments so keenly on the flagging sense of diminishing returns in horror franchise fare, it’s hard not to agree. A level of warmth has been removed from the equation this time, replaced with Grey’s Anatomy level melodrama and a strange aura of self-loathing. The survivors gather together wearily at the end, moved to ask if they’re going to be okay going forward, glum at the prospect of this happening yet again further down the road. It’s a sense of tiredness that transfers quite unpleasantly to those sitting out in the dark. This series has gone, unfortunately, from a scream to a whisper.