Scream (2022) first published by Little White Lies
Not long after Wes Craven went all postmodern on a franchise of his own in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994), the director gave a similar self-referential treatment to John Carpenter‘s Halloween (1978) and its many Eighties imitators with Scream (1996), along the way using the power of pastiche to revive not only the slasher, but also an entire horror genre grown moribund in the early Nineties. Where Scream looked back to slashers past, its sequels increasingly just looked back to Scream, circling ever inwards to rapidly diminishing, self-involved returns while proving very reluctant to kill their darlings. In 2011, eleven years after his trilogy had ended, Craven returned for a fourth, but despite introducing the next generation, could not quite bring himself to let his surviving company of ‘legacy’ characters (once themselves young adults, now just adults) be overtaken or outdone by the new blood that this franchise very much needed – and so it played like a reactionary victory for the olds in a franchise that had once felt so fresh.
Another eleven years later, and with Craven himself now dead, the helm has been handed to directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Southbound, 2015; Ready or Not, 2019) for this latest sequel – entitled just Scream without the 5, much as the ‘pretentious’ eighth entry in the Stab franchise-within-a-franchise, loosely based on the ‘real’ Woodsboro killings, is just called Stab. Yet the spirit of Craven – and of Carpenter – still very much haunts this new instalment. “Is Wes still bugging you?” reads a text that Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) receives from her friend Amber (Mikey Madison) in the film’s opening sequence – and even if the text will turn out to be specifically referencing the girls’ schoolfriend Wes Hicks (Dylan Minnette), the son of Woodsboro’s deputy-turned-sheriff Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton), his name, and Tara’s surname, point to a different layer of legacy.
Tara is attacked by a killer in a ghostface mask who is recreating (and updating) the famous opening scene from the first Scream (and the first Stab), but Tara’s survival and subsequent hospitalisation will draw her estranged older sister Sam (Melissa Barbara) back to Woodsboro from Modesto, with boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) in tow – and as the bodies pile up, old Scream survivors Sidney (Neve Campbell), Gale (Courtney Cox) and Dewey (David Arquette) will also return once again to this ever cold but ever warming case. They race to unmask the killer – or killers – amongst themselves or Tara’s super-smart friends (Mason Gooding, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sonia Ben Ammar, all excellent), in a small town where everyone has inherited an incestuous connection to the original slaughter. Meanwhile someone is self-consciously trying to restage, reboot and renew Woodsboro’s Nineties massacre and to return things to ground zero – someone who respects the franchise’s tradition of meta-slashing antics, and who expressly cuts short any attempt to introduce voguish post-Noughties ‘elevated’ elements. Which is to say that this latest spree is openly modelled, set-piece by set-piece, on the first Scream, even as it constantly negotiates its own delicate status as a ‘requel’ in a shifting horror landscape.
This new Scream toys with our knowledge of the old – a knowledge that we share with the Stab-savvy characters – its very familiarity fuelling nostalgia while letting expectations yield their own modest red herrings. Like Scream 4, it is interested in two very different generations which have both inherited the traumas of the first Scream, even as it skewers precisely the conservative culture of fandom that demands backward-looking sequels like this in the first place. It is as clever-clever as the rest, and where Craven seemed increasingly, like his masked killers, to be phoning it in, this is certainly the most stylishly directed of all the sequels – but still, its ironic self-consciousness about how tired its material has become does not ultimately make it any less tired. Scream may stab the original repeatedly in the back (again), and may eviscerate its own tropes from the inside out (not for the first, or even fourth, time), but do we really need to keep (re)rereading these over-spilt entrails? In the end, every ghostface killer is just circling the same old histories and hunting grounds, with little new to show for the effort except maybe the promise of yet more movie cash-ins.
Anticipation: Love the original Scream, love Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett
Enjoyment: Well crafted, same old.
In Retrospect: Sure whodunnit – but also, really now, whocares?
strap: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett’s post-Craven instalment constantly negotiates its own delicate status as a ‘requel’ in a shifting horror landscape.