Subversion has always been at the core of Scream and what makes the franchise special. The original was a sensation not just because it was a snarky, self-aware jab at the genre, but because it succeeded at that while also being a shocking and genuinely scary horror film in its own right.
Somehow, 25 years and four sequels later, 2022’s Scream pulls off the same seemingly impossible trick. It’s a tough balancing act to make a genuinely funny horror movie that satirizes the genre’s trends and tropes without slipping into Scary Movie territory, but the series’ incisive commentary and wit is still intact, alongside its brutality. It’s violent and unnerving, and follows the series formula while still hiding more than a few surprises up its sleeve.
Scream is a series that has always had a remarkable level of consistency both in front and behind the camera, with all four prior entries retaining writer Kevin Williamson and horror legend Wes Craven as director. Over five years after his death and a decade after his last instalment in the series, Craven’s shoes are filled by Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, a directing duo which might not have his legendary status, but who evidently made an impact with their subversive comedy-horror Ready or Not.
Gillet & Bettinelli-Olpin have a keen understanding of what makes the series and the genre tick, and the film is absolutely at its best when playing with and subverting those conventions. Horror tropes are turned on their head, and scenes seamlessly transition from terror to comedy. The best laughs don’t come from jokes or quippy meta-commentary, but from subtle exploitation of the editing and cinematography we’ve come to expect from slashers.
Neve Campbell has gone somewhat under-looked over the years for her portrayal of Sidney Prescott, but she proves here beyond a doubt that she’s one of horror’s most compelling heroes. There’s always been a charming sentimentality to the relationships of the series’ core cast, and the return of Courteney Cox and David Arquette‘s equally iconic characters grounds the more cynical elements of the film with a much-needed dose of earnestness.
The series’ returning ‘legacy’ trio is balanced out by an impressive ensemble of potential killers, each actor bringing their own unique quirks to their character that could easily make them a suspect. Jenna Ortega and Jack Quaid are stand-outs, though even the weakest links in the cast could be seen as acting out of character to throw suspicions. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone knows it- the film is as much a murder mystery as a slasher, and the way it toys with the audience is a delight.
Scream has always seemed to benefit the most from longer gaps between entries, when there are new trends in the genre and film industry at large to lambast. This time around, the soft reboot or ‘re-quel’ gets its turn in the hot seat, the film taking a stab at everything from the obsession with legacy characters to its very own ridiculously derivative title. The film is as in tune with today’s horror landscape as you’d expect, throwing out references to just about every recent favourite, poking fun at pretentious “elevated horror” fans, and commenting on the absurdity of toxic, possessive fanbases.
There are, however, plenty of moments where the film feels like it’s just going through the series’ motions again. Scream has always followed a formula, and the film is obviously aware of this, directly drawing attention to the repetition and derivativeness of it all, but at some point, the self-awareness just turns into lamp-shading. Motivations get muddled, and characters who we’ve seen do this plenty of times before still make ridiculous mistakes to keep the plot in motion- the fact that the film pokes fun at them doesn’t fully absolve it.
Nonetheless, another terrific final act and killer reveal go a long way to making the entire film feel fresh and surprising, even if it is still essentially cycling through the series’ greatest hits. In a way, the film’s repetition and insistence on ‘returning to the original’ lends it a sort of poetic ending to the saga, and it’d be nice to think of this as the last chapter in these characters’ struggles. Just like its relentless, ever-changing masked killer though, it’s hard to see a world where Scream stays dormant for too long.