I still remember that December night in 1996. The late Wes Craven’s “Scream” had already been out a little over a week. I somehow convinced my wife of barely over a year to go see it with me. She didn’t like horror movies. I grew up on them. Thankfully we left the theater that night still happily married. That’s because not only did I enjoy “Scream”, but she did too. Well done Mr. Craven.
A fun, subversive and self-aware horror flick, the original “Scream” caught a lot of people by surprise. And while I never bought arguments that it dramatically changed the struggling genre, it certainly injected it with some much needed new energy. Not only did it launch its own series of sequels (one good, the others not so much), it also inspired a number of other blood-drenched young adult slashers, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” being the biggest.
But I don’t want to downplay the 1996 film’s impact. “Scream” was a blast and it knew how to utilize the genre’s strengths and have fun with all of its absurdities. It also did something that so many of its slasher predecessors couldn’t do – give us a broad cast of entertaining characters who we like being around and who are actually memorable. That’s a big reason why several careers were launched thanks to the movie.
Co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (“V/H/S”) set out to relaunch the series with their new film “Scream” (in keeping with the goofy horror movie trend of reusing the same title as the franchise’s first film). But the title isn’t the only thing they steal from the original movie. If you’ve seen the trailer you probably know it kicks off with a clear homage to the 1996 film’s iconic opening. The rest of the film features several other callbacks which range from fun fan service to unremarkably derivative. And then you get the final act which I won’t dare spoil. But let’s just say where the opening is a nice homage, the ending is a glaringly uninspired rehash.
Storywise, it’s been twenty years since the last brutal killings in the little town of Woodsboro. But wouldn’t you know it, in the opening scene a teenager named Tara (Jenna Ortega) is terrorized and then violently attacked by a knife-wielding psycho in a Ghostface mask. Yet unlike the 1996 opening scene (which this one is clearly mimicking), here the victim survives despite being stabbed multiple times.
After getting word of the attack, Tara’s estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barrera), who works at a bowling alley in Modesto, rushes back to Woodsboro with her generic tag-along boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid). While it first seems like a tender reunion, we soon learn there’s some serious baggage between the sisters which once unpacked gives us one of the film’s more outrageous twists.
Oh, and then there is Tara’s gaggle of friends, your normal group of twenty-something’s playing high-schoolers. I could list their names but there’s not much point. They’re basically just fodder for the killer, and each time one is savagely flayed we scratch them off the suspect list. And yes, the 1996 film had its group of party-hardy teens. But none in this new batch are remotely memorable or have half the personality and presence as Ulrich’s Billy, Lillard’s Stu, McGowan’s Tatum, or Kennedy’s Randy. The one saving grace from the new cast is Barrera who does the very best she can with the hit-or-miss material.
The biggest way “Scream” 2022 connects with the previous films is by bringing back the franchise’s most beloved legacy characters. Neve Campbell returns as Sidney, David Arquette as Dewey, and Courtney Cox as Gale. Without question it’s fun to see these three back in a “Scream” movie. At the same time, their roles here feel more nostalgic than important to the story.
This movie also embraces the same meta aspect which gave the original film its fresh and playful energy. But here it isn’t nearly as effective as the filmmakers want it to be. That’s because they go to it a few too many times. It often comes across as disingenuous, and while we see the actress speaking the words, all we hear are the writers trying to be clever. At other times it’s haphazardly crammed into scenes, to the point where the movie begins to resemble lazy self-parody rather than anything smart and/or creative. This is meta overload.
While slasher movies aren’t known for having the smartest characters, I was surprised at the sheer number of dumb decisions people make in this one. Especially in a series that has made pointing out horror movie clichés and tropes a key part of its storytelling. It’s head-scratching to watch characters be so smart one minute and as dumb as a box of rocks the next; wisely suspicious for one scene but then forget to be in the very next one. You can argue that’s kinda the point,
Then you have equally baffling holes in the story’s logic. Like the police deciding to move Tara away from people to a completely empty floor of a hospital. Brilliant. Or the weird idea of hitting a wild party only a few hours after one of your best friends was brutally murdered. But my favorite might be Ghostface, not just taking four rounds from a .357 magnum at close range, but hopping back up like nothing happened? How does he survive? We don’t know. The movie forgets to tell us. Oh well.
A lot of this may sound like nitpicking, especially for a self-aware blood-drenched slasher movie. I don’t know, maybe I was expecting too much from “Scream” 2022. Perhaps I was wrong for thinking that resuscitating this old franchise meant they had something new to bring to it. Unfortunately, if you take out the handful of new faces and few grisly new kills, all you’re left with is a pretty run-of-the-mill horror flick. One that clearly respects Wes Craven’s original “Scream”, but spends too much time milking his ideas rather than coming up with fresh ones of its own. “Scream” is now showing in theaters.