Ready or not, there’s a new Scream film in theaters, 11 years after Ghostface last haunted the multiplex. This time around, the creative team behind 2019’s Ready or Not take the reigns from director Wes Craven (who passed away in 2015) and writer Kevin Williamson. In addition to the Ready crew of directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and writer Guy Busick, the co-writer of the masterful David Fincher film, Zodiac, James Vanderbilt also serves as a co-writer on Scream (2022). With all of this talent and the participation of all of the surviving legacy players who make the Scream franchise what it is (Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox) and a movie poster promising the return to the infamous Stu Mocker murder house from the original film, you’d think this movie would have a fighting chance at reviving the self-referential, meta horror franchise that fans have loved for decades. While it doesn’t misunderstand the franchise and its killer and miss the mark as greatly as the 2018 Halloween “requel” did, Scream (2022) doesn’t know what to do with the elements of the franchise which made it so great, and it largely retreads ground which was covered with more depth in Scream 4.
In Scream (2022), everybody is related to somebody from the original films. Melissa Barrera plays Sam Carpenter (Get it? Like the director?), the secret long-lost daughter of one of the early teen killers in the franchise. Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding play twins who happen to be the niece and nephew of the slain franchise-original movie expert, Randy Meeks. Marley Shelton of Grindhouse fame returns from Scream 4 as Deputy Judy Hicks, and this time she has a son called Wes (Get it? Like the director?) played by Dylan Minnette. I keep mentioning these name references because that’s the best Scream (2022) can do when it comes to integrating horror trivia and tropes into its storyline. Gone are the days of entire scenes taking place inside of video rental stores, movie theaters, college classrooms on film, movie sets, and after school movie clubs. These new characters simply state the names of movies they like (The Babadook, The Witch) or have posters on the walls of their house for The Blob and Vertigo without ever citing anything about what makes any of these movies tick beyond what you might see in the first sentence of a “Critics Consensus” on Rotten Tomatoes. What’s worse is the new cast exhibit more of the melodramatic qualities of the unconnected 2015 MTV Scream television series. This film is chock full of unearned sappy crying scenes and emotional moments which fall flat because its characters are merely ciphers with horror-inspired names or supposed expertise assigned to them.
This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the film knew what to do with the O.G. Scream characters and location. Since Scream 2, nobody really got attached to the newcomers anyways. All the scripts of the sequels had to do was treat Campbell, Arquette, and Cox—the holy trinity of the franchise—with respect and give them moments to show off their character qualities that fans fell in love with in 1996. For Scream (2022), it’s too little, too late. All three of them descend on Woodsboro (after two of them heartily committed to stay away) far too late into the film’s running time. I’m frankly surprised that a film which bases its premise on fan reactions to inferior film requels which don’t commit proper service to their original characters chose to make the same mistake as The Force Awakens of not putting the main cast together to share a scene in the new film. What’s worse is that Scream (2022) kills off one of these previously untouchable characters. After four movies and 26 years, one of the unofficial rules of the franchise is that Sidney, Dewey, and Gale might be placed in precarious positions, and they might even be maimed along the way… but they don’t die. A bit unbelievable, yes, but it’s also a big part of the charm of the franchise. It was a poor decision to have one of the franchise favorites be murdered by one of the least intimidating, least inspiring Ghostface killers in the franchise. The ultra-gory way in which it happened made it feel even more disrespectful to the franchise. I know, I know… now I sound like one of those upset fans on the internet that the film tries to poke fun at. But I bought a ticket to the movie because it said Scream on the ticket, so it’s okay for me to not like it when the movie isn’t like Scream. Making Ready or Not 2? Play by Ready or Not rules. But Scream is all about its own rules and this movie broke too many of them.
Speaking of over the top gore, Scream (2022) might be the most violent film in the franchise. The filmmakers love neck wounds for some reason, and they can’t seem to go 20 minutes without somebody being poked in the neck. Knives go through body parts far more often than they ever did in previous entries, and gone are the days of the Ghostface wildly swinging or stabbing a knife and being satisfied with whatever body parts it hits. Despite being bloodier and more grotesque, many of the kills didn’t have the same emotional impact as the famous scenes of the past. One time this is because someone we just meet gets stabbed in the neck, and then another character later tells us that the recently departed was also related to a legacy killer. Other times it’s because the tension isn’t built up to the pitch-perfect levels we’re used to Craven orchestrating. Most importantly, Scream‘s gore was offset by its sharp scripts and fleshed-out characters… elements which are sorely underdeveloped in this outing.
The Scream franchise is famous for its elements of comedy. This came about in the form of humorous wordplay, the “awww shucks” charm of Officer Dewey, and sometimes even the dark physical comedy of the ways in which Ghostface would sometimes mess up and scramble. When Scream (2022) came together, the studio must have thought that the Ready or Not team would be perfect for Scream because they also incorporated comedy into their horror film. The problem here is that their brand of comedy isn’t exactly built for Scream. There are some deadpan moments and the characters sometimes make quips which remind us of the best that the franchise had to offer. But other times, I wasn’t even sure why the filmmakers wanted the audience to be laughing at something. They brought on Mikey Madison of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood fame to play Amber Freeman and they give her a moment at the end which is a spitting image of her previous role. This moment also includes a ham-fisted joke which didn’t yield any laughs during my screening, and it mostly left me wondering if the audience was supposed to make the connection between those two films. But Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood isn’t a horror film and it’s about loving movies for what makes them great; whereas Scream (2022) attempts to pull in commentary on toxic fandom. The audience is supposed to identify with the new cast of characters who profess their love for “smart” horror movies like It Follows by saying their titles and then nothing else about them, but these characters completely miss the mark in their assessment of Scream (and Stab it’s counterpart in the world of the franchise, when at its best appears to mimic these qualities of the source material) because it was always the smartest slasher on the block. The result of all of this is a movie franchise going through an identity crisis.
And when Scream (2022) leans in the hardest on the original franchise, it fails the hardest on capturing the spirit of these films. Remember how Sam Carpenter is the mystery daughter of a legacy killer? Well, she actually see’s him physically in moments which are explained as her medication not working but look more like he’s watching in on the action like a ghost. This worked to a much greater effect in The Shining requel, Doctor Sleep, because that movie was actually about ghosts and not Ghostface. Doctor Sleep also treated the return to the Overlook Hotel with more reverence than Scream (2022) can muster for the original murder house. Doctor Sleep spent hours building on the legacy characters, seeing how they fit into a new world which was drastically different from the world of The Shining, and developing the new characters into multifaceted humans. And then the original score swelled and before we knew it Danny Torrance was retracing his steps in that original horror landmark we all know and love. Scream (2022) features the original house on its poster and in its trailer, so the way the filmmakers chose to reveal that a long-established party was actually taking place inside of the Mocker house was baffling. It was sometimes unclear whether they had secured the original location or were using green screen for the exterior shots because they rarely pulled back to show the menacing McMansion in all of its glory. I’d hate to bring up Doctor Sleep again, but Danny gets to experience all of these moments where he grapples with the past inside of the hotel and all of his trauma and experience come rushing back as he explores its hallways. Sidney gets none of this closure as she simply clears the structure with her pistol, commando-style. One of the hallmarks of the original Scream movie is just how much time was spent inside of that house and the sheer emotional intensity of the back and forth in the kitchen at the end of the movie. What happens at the end of Scream (2022) could have taken place in my kitchen and had the same exact emotional effect.
I realize that I stated this movie doesn’t miss the mark as poorly as Halloween (2018) did, and then I proceeded to complain about it for the next five paragraphs. What I meant by that is that Scream (2022) still has the semblance of a Scream movie. Roger L. Jackson still performs the voice of Ghostface with the same level of wit and devilish charm as he has been doing all along. Some of the film’s moments of suspense and misdirections match those of the originals (although we really needed to see Ghostface scrambling around much more often). It still has some legacy character moments which are still fun after all of these years. But when the dust settles, I believe Scream fans are going to prefer Scream 4 for a superior take on how to address horror remakes in the world of the franchise where the writing and directing which was much more aligned with the originals than this new entry.