1996’s Scream from director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson has, over the years, become a bonafide horror classic, and for good reason. In fact, for yours truly, it remains my favorite film of all time, and subsequently the most consistent franchise in a landscape teeming with sub-par sequels. 2022’s Scream knows how amazing that original movie was. It is made by fans for fans, with fandom itself caught in its crosshairs. Ready or Not directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett mastermind a subversive and intense approach to the series that carries over the meta DNA, but feels passionate to the mere lightning-in-a-bottle of its own existence. One can feel the love for the original movie exploding out from every frame. Best of all, this creative team never forgets Williamson’s power of emphasis on character over mindless gore—legacy players Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), and Dewey Riley (David Arquette), joined by Scream 4’s quirky by-the-book Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton), are back, alongside a roster of exciting fresh-blood talent. Scream is slasher horror heaven.
After an introduction from Neve and Courteney imploring the audience not to spoil the movie (and “welcome back to Woodsboro!”), Scream starts with a phone call. Tara (Jenna Ortega, The Babysitter: Killer Queen and SXSW breakout The Fallout) is texting back and forth with her bestie, Amber (Mikey Madison, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Monster), when the landline won’t stop ringing. Roger L. Jackson, the instantly-recognizable voice of the Ghostface killer’s handy dandy voice-changer, gets a ton of fantastic material throughout, but especially in this opening sequence. What’s your favorite scary movie? If the answer, like Tara, is The Babadook, then Scream might not be for you. Right off the bat, this clever script seems to challenge the audience in a self-reflective way. With Stab being the fictional movie based on the events of the original 1996 Scream, we are already in on the joke. How well do you remember that iconic movie? Ghostface demands three rounds of Stab trivia from Tara, lest she face the dire consequences. The phone calls in this film shook me to my core.
The Ghostface killings have remained dormant since 2011. Now, twenty-five years after the original Woodsboro murders, Ghostface makes a bold return. From the relentless opening sequence, it becomes painfully obvious that the killer (or killers) has once again taken their love of scary movies one step too far. The opener evokes Drew Barrymore’s tragic death as Casey Becker in the original. Classic lines and iconography return, filling Scream with fan service done right. With such a major throughline about not pissing off the fans, Scream never seems to be walking on eggshells in an effort to do just that. Every phone call or seconds spent alone with a character are enough to put the viewer on edge. The new score from composer Bryan Tyler (taking over duties from Marco Beltrami for the very first time in this series) ratchets up the suspense around every bend.
In the wake of her sister’s attack, Sam (In the Heights actress Melissa Barrerra) is drawn back to Woodsboro, the town she has long ago left behind. Joined by her beau and fellow Cardinal Lanes employee, Richie (Jack Quaid, The Boys, Tragedy Girls), Sam longs to get to the bottom of the mysteries swirling around them. What better way than by talking to “an expert?” Dewey has long since retired as a cop, but he is more than willing to provide two minutes of his expertise, despite being stabbed already a whopping nine times. From Dewey, we get the three new rules, as well as the vital suggestion to look inwardly to Tara’s friend group. When the gang meets together at the Meeks residence, this iteration becomes the pure essence of what makes Scream so beloved.
The new suspects are plentiful, and all carry with them links to the franchise’s past. Judy Hicks, now Sheriff, lords over her sweet and loving son, Wes (Dylan Minnette, 13 Reasons Why, Don’t Breathe, Let Me In), with the intense love of a trusting parent. The original film’s movie nerd, Randy Meeks, now has a niece and nephew in the form of twins, both of whom definitely share his DNA: Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown, The Leftovers, The Sound of Violence), a definite movie buff and notable LGBT personality, somewhat obsessed with her uncle’s legacy, and Chad (Mason Gooding, Love, Victor, Booksmart), a rules-cautious jock who refers to his muscles as Hobbs and Shaw. The familial relationships are among the best in the series, exploring the deep bonds that tie relatives together. Also among the suspects are Liv (Sonia Ammar), Chad’s sassy girlfriend, and Vince (Kyle Gallner, Jennifer’s Body, Red State, 2010’s A Nightmare on Elm Street), Liz’s much-older and stalkery one-night stand.
The mixture of these new characters with legacy characters is sublime and executed perfectly. Arquette, Campbell, and Cox justify their return through excellent writing and performances. Sidney Prescott, for me at least, is the defining final girl of horror cinema. Seeing her on the big screen again presents in itself an immense amount of joy; that she is still given material this good is the true revelation. Dewey and Gale receive equally powerful treatment, with their respective scenes being among the film’s best. The seamless commingling of old with new reminded me of the way 2021’s fantastic Chucky series weaved in its classic players. How the new rules work and actively function within the framework of Scream means these characters are even smarter than we initially give them credit for. The script from Guy Busick (Castle Rock, Ready or Not) and James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, Darkness Falls) is layered with movie references galore. The film’s moving parts function in such a way that there is nary a weak link among the impressively large ensemble. Ultimately, the unmasking of the killer(s) is a largely satisfying reveal that made me instantly want to rewatch.
Of course, it would not be Scream without the addition of several bonkers set pieces and memorable kills. Scream 4 had one extremely gory death scene, while the majority of the others are nowhere near as graphic. In 2022’s Scream, the brutality takes hold in a big way, coupled with the piercing terror of the score. Ghostface here is vicious and determined, anxious to conduct his plan with precision. In his too-clean white mask and jet-black costume, Ghostface has never been more terrifying. The deaths are mean and impactful, propped up by gory practical effects to highlight their savagery. The emotionality behind the loss of major characters hits hard in a big way.
So, why the annoying naming convention of an identical title, when Scream is quite clearly a direct sequel to all that came before? We get answers for that, too. In yet another bit of meta commentary, the movie’s fictional Stab series recently premiered an eighth installment, potently titled: Stab. Even the fans mourn the dropping of the numeral, in much the same way real-life Scream fans have done. It is a genius bit of commentary on the purely marketing-driven decision to drop the numeral out of film titles. A frustrating practice to say the least, and yet Scream actually makes a hilarious case for its existence.
Though accessible to new audience members who have perhaps never seen a Scream film in their life, 2022’s sequel will feel most rewarding to the fiercely loyal fanbase. Can we conceivably get a Scream 6 after this, or is it “time to pass the torch?” Never say never. In some ways, this entry is a teary-eyed send-off to the past. Anything is possible, especially in an era where Jamie Lee Curtis gets her own brand-new Halloween trilogy. The main difference is that Scream never had to rewrite its own history to stay relevant—every single entry (even my least favorite, 2000’s Scream 3) has its own distinct voice. Consistency is key in a series that already gave us two absolutely brilliant final girls in Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers. Call it Scream 5, Scream, Scream: Legacy, or whatever you wish. One thing is for sure: 2022’s Scream is living proof that sequels can still deliver. Potent social commentary and horrifying kills never forgo the necessity of etching out a strong new suspect list. Staying faithful in honoring Wes Craven’s vision, a catchy Wallows song over the end credits, and potentially exposing an all-new base of rabid moviegoers to the genius of Scream, is just the bloody cherry on top. Wes would be proud.
Scream ushers in a new era of horror when it debuts exclusively in theaters on Friday, January 14th.