Spirit of horror maestro Wes Craven is alive in ‘Scream’ 2
Jenna Ortega plays Tara Carpenter in the horror film.
Culture

‘Scream’ review: The spirit of horror maestro Wes Craven is alive and well in this legacy sequel

The movie withholds the return of its veterans until deep into the proceedings, but the reunion will satisfy any diehard fan.
ANDREW PAREDES | Jan 31 2022

The Scream movies have always been adept at telegraphing their gambits from the opening sequences. (I think part of the reason why Scream 3, an installment not written by original screenwriter Kevin Williamson, is often viewed as the weakest is because it adopted the trademark opening phone call, but reduced the opening sequence to generic slasher mayhem; it got the fix-ins right, but not the actual meal.) Before the slicing and dicing begin, you get two characters—for four of the five films, one of them has been the voice of Roger L. Jackson, pitched to malevolent gruffness as the stand-in for Ghostface—discussing the conventions and failings of the latest trend in horror, and then the conversation turns into a deadly game of Trivial Pursuit.

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Scream 4 cast member Marley Shelton returns, now as Sheriff Judy Hicks.

It’s a hopeful sign that the opening sequence of the 2022 incarnation of Scream does not commit the mistakes of the third installment. (First off, let’s address that deliberately confusing title: If they could use Scre4m, then 5cream was right there for the taking—an affectation that gets its own throwaway gag. But as you’ll see from the examples below, appropriating the title of the first film is all part of the game.) Right off the bat, Ghostface asks Tara (You’s Jenna Ortega), the soon-to-be first victim of this latest killing spree: “How well do you remember the original?”

It tells you that this film will be preoccupied with the font from whence all this blood has gushed: the 1996 original directed by the late horror maestro Wes Craven. This time, the franchise is skewering the new trend of legacy sequels, or “re-quels” as the film-savvy twins Mindy and Chad (Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding) dub them: a hybrid of reboot and sequel that focuses on new characters, but still unfolds within the universe of the original film so that beloved older characters can return. Recent examples include David Gordon Green’s Halloween and Nia da Costa’s Candyman. But if you want to increase your fun, I suggest revisiting another legacy sequel, JJ Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens, to glean crucial clues to the story beats of this fifth installment.

Along the way to its inevitably violent result, the exchange between Tara and Ghostface manages to make giggly observations at the expense of “elevated horror”, a breed of prestige indie chiller that folds in psycho-social commentary into its storytelling. After haughtily dismissing slasher movies, Tara begs Ghostface, “Ask me about It Follows! Ask me about Hereditary! Ask me about The Witch!” And then directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett make a fundamental change to the opening sequence, signaling that they’re not above subverting your expectations of this franchise—and then re-subverting your subverted expectations.

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Neve Campbell reprises the role of Sidney Prescott.

In the aftermath of this first attack, Tara’s sister Sam Carpenter (that last name is not an accident) comes back to the town where both sisters used to share a home, the northern California enclave of Woodsboro. Sam is played by In the Heights’ Melissa Barrera, and on top of demonstrating that her lungs are as good for screaming as for singing, she gets an affecting sisterly chemistry going with Ortega. In tow is Jack Quaid, playing an equally funny variation of his Everyman character in The Boys, as Sam’s boyfriend Richie.

The film then settles into a groove that slightly sags, as the script by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick tries valiantly to get us acquainted with the new characters, which not only include inner-circle friends like firebrand Amber (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood’s Mikey Madison) and cautious good boy Wes (13 Reasons Why’s Dylan Minnette—again, an intentional character name) but also satellite acquaintances like Liv (Sonia Ammar), Chad’s hot girlfriend, and her obsessive ex Vince (Kyle Gallner). You know these characters exist merely to serve as viable suspects and, once their innocence is established, as grist for the movie’s bloodthirsty mill.

Having said that, directors Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett, who rose to prominence on the strength of their 2019 fun slasher riff Ready Or Not, serve up kills that are exceptionally brutal. And there is one extended sequence where a character gets a grisly stabbing, but only after said character has wandered through a kitchen laid out to offer many convenient opportunities for Ghostface to spring out. The scene is a masterclass in stretching out suspense until it feels like distorted, excruciating bubble gum.

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A new killer has donned the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town’s deadly past.

Desperate to keep a step ahead of Ghostface, Sam and Richie ask for help from an “expert”, retired sheriff Dewey Riley. In turn, his warnings not to come back to Woodsboro snare the returns of his now ex-wife Gale Weathers and OG Final Girl Sidney Prescott. Scream 2022 withholds the return of veterans David Arquette, Courteney Cox and Neve Campbell until deep into the proceedings, and their reunion will produce a pleasurable frisson in any diehard fan. Aficionados will debate whether the three are best employed in the glorified cameos that they are given, but all three wear their weariness well. Gone are the amusing bickering and the whip-smart banter; in their place are a palpable sense of melancholy and nostalgia. Arquette is the MVP among the three, displaying previously unseen depths of regret and grizzled courage.

And in another notable departure, when the killer (or killers?) explains the underlying motivation for the bloodbath, the climactic exposition will produce knowing guffaws instead of gasps. Not content to send up the idea of legacy sequels, this Scream squarely points its blade at toxic fandom, the denizens of the comments section of YouTube who affect such an ownership of their favorite franchises they start to feel they know better than the creators. And in the ways the movie lays out who gets killed next and who might be behind the mask, Scream inoculates itself against charges of triteness by saying that it’s the culprit, whose cliched ideas of what “stakes” are, that betrays a lack of imagination.

It's not a perfect movie. Such blatant machinations as a missing inhaler might produce groans. Some lines could have used Williamson’s knack with a punch. (“I still prefer The Babadook” doesn’t feel like a quotable kiss-off line.) And one can’t help but miss Craven’s unfussy way with craft, whether his workmanlike attention to characterization could have benefited the new central characters. But his spirit is undoubtedly alive in Scream’s 2022 iteration. And if this installment does give an opening to a new series, then it’s great to see the franchise is in capable, bloody hands.

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Scream opens nationwide on Wednesday, February 2. There will be sneak previews on Tuesday, Febraury 1.