'Scream' review: Meta slasher sequel revives franchise with blood and love for Wes Craven
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
When Wes Craven’s “Scream” took over the pop culture zeitgeist 25-years ago not many, including the late Craven who died of brain cancer in 2015, assumed it would be cemented in horror movie history as one of, if not, the greatest slasher film of all time. The formulaic approach of a killer on the loose, sporting a ghoulish mask and wielding a razor-sharp knife as his weapon of choice found success thanks to an incredible cast of rising stars and its savvy deconstruction of the horror genre, which at that point was running on fumes. Cut to 2022 and three sequels later, the franchise (on life support after diminishing box office returns and two crummy MTV spinoffs) has been revived with a serrated edge by Radio Silence duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (of “Ready or Not” and “V/H/S” fame) two “Scream” superfans who with the assistance of series creator Kevin Williamson (he’s got an executive producing credit) and writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick have crafted a loving homage to the series’ enduring legacy while balancing an appropriate amount of fan service with meta commentary on elevated horror. Oh, and there’s blood. Lots and lots of blood.
Not so much a reboot, but a “requel” (terminology used by those in the film), “Scream” juggles a fair amount of narrative exposition (perhaps too much) before arriving at its twisty and contemporary conclusion. Featuring several callbacks, references and well-tuned needle drops guaranteed to send fans into a frenzy, Olpin and Gillett carefully thread the line between the old school and new school. Not unlike 2018’s slasher revival of “Halloween,” 2022’s iteration of “Scream” doesn’t go as far to retcon the events of the previous entries, but you don’t need to be well versed in “Scream” lore to tag along for the ride. When Neve Campbell’s heroine Sidney Prescott, David Arquette’s retired Sheriff Deputy “Dewey” Riley or Courtney Cox’s plucky reporter Gale Weathers show-up on screen, you’ll know who they are, but this isn’t their story so much as it belongs to the new cast. The legacy characters dutifully step aside to allow the next generation to take over.
And it starts in earnest with a signature opening sequence (one of the best and scariest of the franchise) I wouldn’t dare give away, though it maintains that breezy, conversational lure from when Drew Barrymore’s ill-fated Casey Becker picked up the phone in the 1996 classic. This brings audiences back to Woodsboro where a fresh crop of victims and suspects are introduced: Melissa Barrera’s Sam Carpenter steps in to become the new Sidney Prescott, though a complicated past makes you question her trustworthiness. Same for her younger, estranged sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) and obviously suspicious boyfriend Richie Kirsch (Jack Quaid). Rounding out the roster is Dylan Minette’s geeky and knowledgeable Wes Hicks (son to Marley Shelton’s Judy Hicks), Mikey Madison’s emo and sheltered Amber Freeman, Sonia Ammar’s ditzy Liv McKenzie, and finally, playing twins with their own family history tied to Woodsboro, Mason Gooding’s Chad Meeks-Martin and Jasmin Savoy Brown’s Mindy Meeks-Martin, the latter perfectly encapsulating Jamie Kennedy’s lightning-in-a-bottle energy and horror movie nerdom when he played fan-favorite Randy.
They’re all on the chopping block as someone is donning the elusive white mask, stalking, and tormenting them, except, akin to the previous entries, the characters are aware of their situation and utilize several tools (namely the “Stab” films, the movies-within-the-movie based on the events of 1996’s “Scream”) to try and stay alive long enough to unveil the culprit. Sidney, now a mother in a happy marriage and Gale, the co-host of a popular morning show, haven’t set foot in Woodsboro for over a decade, leaving Dewey, holed-up in his mobile home washing down morning coffee with whisky, as the residential veteran enlisted to lead the new group and explain “the rules of surviving a horror movie.” Busick and Vanderbilt’s script gives Arquette plenty of character to chew on (he’s lost the most) which helps create a full circle moment during the climactic third act showdown.
“Scream” is hip with the times much in the same way its predecessors were, throwing nods to Rian Johnson, “It Follows” and “Hereditary” and playfully toys with audience expectations. It also features some of the gruesomest and most original killings of the franchise, not to mention the filmmakers have worked in tandem to make Ghostface a terrifying presence (cinematographer Brett Jutkiewicz steps up in a major way here). There’s the occasional jovial moment of self-aware banter that earns a chuckle, but as soon as Roger L Jackson’s iconic Ghostface voice blasts through the speakers, run for the hills. Mad props to composer Brian Tyler for meticulously weaving a chilling score for those “cover your eyes” moments.
Not all of “Scream” works and there’s creative liberties and questionable choices taken that’ll be divisive (you can tell the screenwriters didn’t want to irk the fans that much and plays several moments on the safe, and sometimes confusing side). The social commentary on revived franchises and sequels seemed a little too on the nose (in passing, a character talks about how popular franchises derail after their fifth movie. Go figure). Aside from those occasional blemishes, the Radio Silence duo and writers can rest easy knowing they’ve created a worthwhile continuation of a horror staple with enough thrills, chills and kills that would’ve made Wes Craven proud. Somewhere, he’s smiling.
SCREAM opens in theaters Friday, January 14th.