Certain Rules That One Must Abide By: Scream (2022) - Reviewed

Amid all the remakes, reboots, sequels and prequels, the fifth Scream (just titled Scream) is a bit of a hybrid. It is a sequel in that it brings back the stars from the previous four entries and uses the same mythology. It is a reboot in that it foregrounds a brand-new cast in a story that is halfway between a continuation and a new beginning (according to one of its horror-obsessed teens, this is called a “requel”). Even with the fresh faces, this is still a Scream movie in every way: a killer in a Ghostface mask runs around Woodsboro stalking a group of friends, while they discuss horror tropes and try to guess who’s murdering everyone. The series definitely has a formula and this features all of the expected scenes. It has humor, suspense, mystery and a few brutal kills. It feels like it was made with the spirit of the original in mind. For the most part, it succeeds in at least evoking it. It is generally entertaining, even if it kind of flaunts how unnecessary it is.

The plot (a new Ghostface seems to be targeting descendants of people connected to the first Woodsboro massacre) is enough of an excuse to bring back Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette, while also introducing more potential victims. The meta-slasher schtick has worn a little thin after 25 years of it, but Scream still does it better than most.

This time it has a lot to say about the aforementioned glut of nostalgia-infused franchise continuations. Horror expert Mindy gives multiple speeches on what makes for an acceptable slasher sequel, as well as what the rules are for requels. There are some clever digs here, not just at the current cinematic landscape, but also at toxic fandom.

In the story, the Stab movies (the slasher series within a slasher series, based on the events of the first Scream) are now up to eight and the latest was a major departure, making its fans pretty angry. It is hard for a sequel to get made these days without the original’s most passionate supporters getting outraged, so this feels on-point. Maybe directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett were preparing for Scream’s loyal fanbase to take to message boards and rage about how their childhoods’ have been destroyed? This entry seems relatively faithful, though it happens so much now that it can’t be entirely ruled out as a possibility. The critiques about fan-service sequels and their sometimes overly sensitive audiences are accurate.

Also amusing are the references to a significant change the genre has gone through in the last decade or so. 1996’s Scream was the first to comment on all of the genre’s cliches as it engaged in them. Nowadays, there are artsier horror movies, dealing less in jump-scares and gore. They try to use their scares to expound on themes of motherhood, love, sex, etc. So-called “elevated horror” is brought up several times, providing a couple of nice punchlines. If those movies are bringing horror into a different, more emotionally grounded, direction, Scream is very happy reminding audiences of what the genre was like in the late 90s. It knows what it is and has no interest in complex themes or social commentary.

It is cool to see Sidney, Gale and Dewey again, especially in a story that understands them. Their past experiences with knife-wielding maniacs have taken a big toll on them, mentally more so than physically. Despite these types of movies not being made for standout performances, Arquette is pretty good here. Hints of the old Dewey are there, but life has not been kind to him. There is even a tiny bit of introspection in his exhaustion at the prospect of having to battle another Ghostface. Campbell and Cox don’t have as much to do, though they do have a couple of rewarding moments.

An interesting aspect of this Scream is how heavily it leans into the idea that anyone could be the killer. Obviously, that is the mystery hook for any of these movies, yet this one is really reliant on it. There are a lot of conversations about how nobody should trust anybody else. This element is exciting and annoying for the exact same reason: the identity of Ghostface is completely arbitrary. It truly could be anyone because their motive could theoretically apply to any character. The reveal isn’t built to in the story so much as it is expected due to the conventions of the genre.

The fifth Scream doesn’t break any new ground; it certainly isn’t as good as the original. However, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett get what this franchise is and have fun with it, toying with audience expectations in funny ways. It may not have been needed, but it is enjoyable while it lasts.

--Ben Pivoz