The newest Scream follows too-similar tropes
Wes Craven is one of the few filmmakers who can say they have been monumental in constructing a genre. Horror can’t be understood without the original ideas of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Scream (1996). Each film inspired the horror movies of their decade and spawned innumerable sequels. With Scream Craven was on board as a director for all the follow-ups until his death in 2015. As such, the newest entry in the solid Scream franchise will be the first without him at the helm.
The confusingly titled Scream (2022) is the fifth Scream film, and a soft reboot of the franchise at the same time. This time the main character is Sam (Melissa Barrera), who has a dark connection to the original characters of the previous films. When a new Ghostface killer tries to kill Sam’s sister (Jenna Ortega), she’s forced to go back to the town of Woodsboro and try and confront her past.
This new Scream film is directed by the promising duo of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett who delivered the perfectly entertaining horror Ready or Not (2019). Their decision to be the first directors to follow Craven in this franchise is a bold one, and you sense the late director’s shadow hanging over the entire film. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett litter the screen with easter-eggs and not-so-subtle nods to Craven and his previous films, to the point that it almost gets insultingly tiresome. However, the directing duo is also able to bring about their competent camera work and staging, so that viewers are not shocked at a change of style.
As has happened when a sleeping franchise is reawakened after a big break, this Scream film is a requel (reboot and sequel). I have not been a fan of studios using this method to restart their franchises, but it has worked in some cases, such as the Creed films. However, I find that when these requels steer so close to the original’s narrative structure, they rob viewers of the sense of surprise or originality. This Scream film steers too close to this latter definition, and as such becomes predictable where the other films in the franchise weren’t. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillet’s overuse of having self-aware characters, constantly commenting on unnecessary sequels and reboots, makes this Scream feel less meta than desperately trying to excuse its existence. In fact, it is in the references and comments on horror tropes that the film loses itself, whereas in the other Scream films these were punctual and humorous moments.
Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are able to bring back the original stars of the films with Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courtney Cox, and while they play supporting roles that are borderline cameos, this does do the job of passing the torch to the younger generation at the center of this film. As for the casting of the new characters, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett have developed an eye for boosting underappreciated young talent. They finally gave Samara Weaving the jumpstart her career deserved in Ready or Not, and seem intent on doing the same with the promising Barrera in Scream. However, it is here that Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett lose control of the tone of the film. Barrera’s performance seems to be too self-serious for this film, as if she were in a character-driven drama instead of a tongue-in-cheek horror flick. On the other hand, Ortega, as Sam’s sister, delivers a performance that is alienatingly exaggerateed with her hyperventilation and screams being more cause for a chuckle than a gripping of your armrest. It makes one miss the careful balance that Campbell was able to strike in the first film.
In the end, the newest Scream is certainly a better film than many would expect the fifth film in a horror franchise to be. Unfortunately, it steers too close to mirroring the original to feel like anything original and fresh. For those, uninitiated in Scream it might prove to do its job as a slasher, but for those who have been following these films for a while, it is only a reminder of the talents of the great Craven.