This is a spoiler-free review of Scream (2022).
Around the end of the second act of Scream (2022), there’s a meta-kaleidoscope sequence of Inception-level mirroring anchored by the brilliant Jasmin Savoy Brown as Mindy Meeks-Martin that instantly becomes one of the best moments of the beloved horror series. Now how much you love Scream—the fifth entry into the franchise that began with the 1996 film of the same name—will likely have a lot to do with just how self-aware you like your horror. If the answer is as self-aware as humanly possible, then you might just walk out with a new franchise fave.
Returning once again to the place where it all started, Ready or Not directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett—alongside writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick—deliver the kind of film that can only exist after over two decades and multiple Scream movies. And that’s what makes it so brilliant. While many horror series try to relaunch, reboot, or just plain ignore the past, Scream balances the need for new ideas with a reverence—and critique—of what has come before. There’s an innate understanding of just how much fun you can have with a series like Scream that comes through in every kill, quip, and horror-centric monologue. And if you’ve got thoughts about the title… then don’t worry because you’re not the only one.
The setup will be familiar to anyone who’s watched a Scream film before. In a town called Woodsboro, a masked killer known as Ghostface is once again terrorizing teens. But where the fantastic Scream 4 saw a town still in awe of its past, here we have a friendship group of kids who were born after the original massacre and who—for the most part—barely know what the Stab movies are despite their own connections to the murders that inspired the film series. Like any great Scream movie, those kids are its beating heart. And depending on their luck sometimes that heart will be gushing blood.
Starting with the big hitters: twins Mindy and Chad (Mason Gooding) are the niece and nephew of Randy Meeks. The bantering siblings are true standouts, with Mindy delightfully continuing the tradition of her uncle and Scream 4‘s Kirby as the horror-loving super stan. Our “in” character is Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), a total badass who has to reluctantly return to her hometown of Woodsboro, along with her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid).
The wider group includes: Tara (Jenna Ortega, who’s as brilliant as she was in You) as Sam’s little sister; Wes (Dylan Minnette), a tech savvy teen with a connection to Scream’s past; Amber (Mikey Madison) as Tara’s protective best friend; and Liv (Sonia Ben Ammar) as Mason’s new pink-haired girlfriend.
The new cast is charming, funny, annoying, and gross. Basically, all the things you need horror teens to be. It’s clear that the team behind the film knew the importance of having a crew you care about. Even if you just care about seeing them get killed. That understanding brings us just enough disposable characters to die gruesomely. And, of course, there are also a few characters who will undoubtedly become all-time franchise faves.
In a long overdue reckoning, we get to reimagine who lives and dies in a Scream movie. But if you’re reading all of this and wondering… well what about the original cast? Don’t worry, they get their screen time. And thanks to Vanderbilt and Busick’s screenplay, it’s some of the most emotionally driven and mature character work that we’ve gotten yet.
All three original surviving cast members return. Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott is as hard nosed and sick of this sh*t as she’s ever been, and it’s a wonder to behold. Her relationship with Gale Weathers is key to the film with Campbell and Courteney Cox delivering chemistry at every turn. But the real star of the originals here is David Arquette as Dewey. His character arc is an emotional one that he commits to fully. It’s a performance that’ll go down in horror history and rightfully so.
It’s also an interesting example of the way that Scream balances the outrageous nature of the late stage horror sequel with the more gritty and grounded horror reboot. Dewey represents the latter, a deep look at trauma and the terror of horror. But unlike some other recent returns to classic franchises, Scream is never ashamed of its long and storied history.
It’s that pride and love that are at the heart of what makes Scream so great. This is a film about horror. A film about horror fans, good and bad. And for it to work it has to be made by people who know and love horror. There are elements that you wouldn’t believe if I described them to you. But they absolutely fit into the rules of late stage horror sequels. And said moments gave this reviewer the best kind of chills when all was revealed. It helps that it’s all grounded by a standout central performance by Barrera. She brings heart and grit to even the most outlandish of moments. Barrera also gets one of the most brutal moments of the movie and it’s perfect.
Alongside that homage and horror gameplay, though, they manage to create something that will work as a great introduction to new viewers. If you’re sick of all these new/old movies that do just that, then don’t worry because of course Scream is sick of them too. That ability to laugh, comment, and critique the movie as it’s playing out makes this a total joy. All hail Kevin Williamson and the gift of the Stab movies, which have never been used to better effect.
So yes, this is a great Scream movie. It’s also a great horror movie with tons of great kills, characters you care about, and a lot to say about the industry and horror as a whole. It’s been 11 years since our last Scream movie and it was worth the wait. The film hits theaters on January 14 but, of course, it will be ready for you whenever you feel safe enough to see it.
Featured Image: Paramount Pictures