Scream Review: A Very Funny, Very Bloody Sequel

Someone has taken their love of scary movies one step too far ... again. The fifth entry in any horror series is bound to be questionable; what more is there to say? But you can't keep a good franchise down, and "Scream" has returned to spill some more blood. A lot more blood, in fact. 

"Scream," the fifth film in the series, but one that adopts the trend of jettisoning a number altogether and confusingly using the original film's title, is set 25 years after the events of the first flick, and once again, a masked killer (or killers?) is stalking the unlucky youths of Woodsboro. And yep, you guessed it — everybody's a suspect (to quote the late Randy Meeks).

Released in 1996, the original "Scream" was a big deal for the horror genre. Working with Kevin Williamson's clever, hip script, legendary horror filmmaker Wes Craven breathed new life into the flatlining slasher genre. Unlike characters in so many slasher movies before, the potential victims in "Scream" were actually well aware of horror movies and their rules – and yet knowing the rules couldn't save a lot of them in the end. One by one they were butchered, and Craven filmed it all with surprisingly stark, nasty realism. When one thinks of slasher pics, one often pictures over-the-top kills soaked with unrealistic amounts of gore. But the deaths in that first "Scream" are brutal and often cruel. It's all part of the film's design: these characters aren't supposed to be in a movie. They're in the real world. And in the real world, getting stabbed repeatedly is nasty, messy business. 

"Scream" spawned three sequels, all of which were helmed by Craven, with Williamson penning the scripts for the second and fourth entries and Ehren Kruger writing the rather lackluster third entry. Since then, Craven has died, and it seemed like "Scream" would die with him. But now the series is reborn, rebooted, and revived by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, the filmmaking team behind the excellent horror-comedy "Ready or Not." With a script by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, the new "Scream" has some big shoes to fill. It also needs to justify itself in a way the previous three sequels didn't. Why head back to Woodsboro now? What more is there to say?

What's Your Favorite Scary Movie?

Like all "Scream" films, "Scream" 2022 opens with an attack. This attack is meant to reflect the opening of the first film, which saw Drew Barrymore and her blonde Louise Brooks wig brutally dispatched by a horror movie-loving killer who first tormented her via phone before showing up in person. Back then, young people actually answered their phones — and they mostly used landlines. But times have changed, and when a landline rings in the house of 21st-century teenager Tara (Jenna Ortega), she looks utterly perplexed. She approaches the ringing plastic rectangle the way someone might approach a dusty old relic in some far corner of the world's most boring museum. What is this strange device, and why won't it stop making noise? 

The caller, who has a voice that's instantly familiar to fans of the franchise, gets Tara talking and eventually asks her that now-iconic question: "What's your favorite scary movie?" Tara is a horror fan, but again, times have changed. She's not the type to name-drop "A Nightmare on Elm Street" or "Halloween." Instead, Tara is a fan of "elevated horror," calling out "The Babadook," "The Witch," and "Hereditary," among others. But that's not what the killer wants to hear. They're more interested in hack and slash, and to prove it, here comes a big, sharp knife headed directly for Tara's vital organs. 

So far, this all feels fairly familiar, but then "Scream" starts to shake things up. Tara's estranged older sister, Sam (Melissa Barrera), returns to Woodsboro with her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid, who is very funny here) in tow. Since this sort of ritualized masked serial killer attack is a common occurrence for the unfortunate folks of Woodsboro — there's an entire "based on a true story" film franchise, "Stab," that exists within the world of the franchise — Sam decides she needs to turn to someone who has handled this sort of thing before: poor, sweet, innocent dork Dewey Riley (David Arquette).

Legacy Characters

Little by little, the surviving legacy characters work their way back into the film. Dewey calls his ex-wife, reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), who now hosts a morning show. He also calls up Sidney Prescott, the ultimate "Scream" final girl, played once again by the always-welcomed Neve Campbell. While the new "Scream" doesn't entirely sideline these legacy characters, it's fair to say they play more of a supporting role here — and that wasn't the best choice. Perhaps it's nostalgia talking, but "Scream" really feels like it comes to life when these familiar faces pop up. When Arquette strolls into a scene with the notes of Marco Beltrami's guitar-riffing "Dewey's Theme" playing, I found myself smiling. It's good to have the old gang back.

But not even that is entirely successful here. While it's fair to assume that time and trauma have changed these folks, they don't entirely feel like the characters we know. Gale in particular feels too soft here; too sensitive. She was always a hard-nosed, no-nonsense character. And while it's fun to have Campbell back as Sidney, she, too, feels a tad adrift. This is mostly a script issue — neither Campbell nor Cox are given a whole lot to work with, and have to make do with their charisma and our familiarity with their characters. Only Arquette's Dewey has something resembling an arc, as he plays the former lawman as a washed-up, lonely guy who clearly has a drinking problem. Not that you can blame him — "I've been stabbed nine times," he dryly tells another character at one point. 

Eventually, one of the new characters, Tara's friend Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), figures out what might be going on in Woodsboro: someone is making a "requel." It's not quite a reboot, and it's not quite a sequel. It's more of a legacy sequel — a continuation of the old story with new characters, and some old characters, too. But there's more to it than that. The "Stab" fanbase has grown annoyed with the most recent sequel (directed by Rian Johnson, naturally), with some on message boards claiming it "ruined their childhood." Yes, that's right: toxic fandom is the possible culprit here. 

Toxic Fandom

This is a solid idea — fandoms have grown more and more toxic over the years. When some critics dared to give "The Dark Knight" a negative review, they got death threats. The female-driven "Ghostbusters" reboot was declared an abomination before anyone had seen a single frame. And people are still infuriated by the excellent "Star Wars" film "The Last Jedi" for daring to be different. Using that as a springboard for a new "Scream" has tons of potential.

And yet ... "Scream" doesn't do a whole lot with it. It just sort of introduces the idea and continues on. This rather rushed nature plagues the film as a whole: this is a breezy flick that never slows down, but maybe it should have. I got the sense that there had to be more to several supporting characters here, and all of that got left on the cutting room floor for the sake of brevity. So be it, and I certainly can't fault the film for maintaining a steady pace. But it wouldn't hurt to let up now and then.

None of this is to say that "Scream" isn't a lot of fun. Whatever the script lacks in plot it makes up for in humor — this is probably the funniest entry in the series, and the increase in comedy is welcomed. And fans craving kills will get their money's worth, as this is a brutal movie. Like Craven and that original film, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett understand that the attacks need to be gruesome, and they are. There's no flinching or looking away here — every stab, every slash, every puncture is writ large and bloody across the screen. 

And, for the most part, we actually want the potential victims here to survive. Sure, they're kind of rude, but they're also just kids, and the cast does a good job making them all likable in their own way. The only player who doesn't fare so well is Barrera, who makes for a rather lackluster final girl. Sam has some dark stuff clouding her past, but I never bought Barrera as someone with that experience. We never connect with her Sam the way we connected with Sidney, and it certainly doesn't help that the actual Sidney is lurking on the periphery, just waiting for the film to give her a big moment. 

Off the Rails

These are the sorts of problems that could've completely derailed "Scream" — in a cheeky moment that perhaps acknowledges this, Richie, talking about the "Scream" clone "Stab," says that "This whole franchise goes off the rails in part 5." There's a certain predictableness that doesn't do the film any favors, either — you'll probably figure out several twists and turns on your own with very little deduction, and way before any of the characters. 

But "Scream" ends up being so breezy, bloody, and funny that it's hard to hold a grudge. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett get creative with their set-pieces — the stalking moments are frequently riddled with tension, but they're amusing, too. There's one particularly humorous moment where a character keeps opening doors in a house, with the expectation being that the minute the open door closes we'll see the killer standing behind it. But it doesn't happen. And it doesn't happen again, and again, and again, to the point where you can't help but start laughing at the intentional absurdity of it all. 

Wes Craven's original "Scream" was groundbreaking. While it didn't invent the slasher genre (obviously), it recontextualized it in a way that felt fresh, original, and innovative. It's fair to even say that Craven's 1996 film changed the horror movie landscape. The 2022 "Scream" won't come anywhere close to having that sort of long-lasting, genre-defining impact. It's too familiar. ("You might be the most derivative one yet," Sidney tells the killer in one scene.) But it's a nifty, quick-witted slasher pic, and at this point in this particular franchise, that's more than enough. So, what's your favorite scary movie?

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10