Written by James Vanderbilt & Guy Busick
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
Eleven years after Scream 4, yet another sequel was released. However, unlike the previous films, this was the first entry that Wes Craven did not direct, as he passed away in 2015. This would cause an attempt to jumpstart a new trilogy to be helmed by new creators. As Scream is a continuous meta-commentary not just on horror but the nature of sequels and franchises now, this puts it in the same place as Star Wars, whose sequel trilogy was helmed by an entirely new creative team. As you would expect, this is a fact hinted at in the film. There’s even a pivot from a focus on the franchise’s original heroes to a younger generation and the death of one of our longtime players that serve as motivation for the hero to stop Ghostface. But does it live up to the original movie while expanding it into new places and ideas?
Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) is a high school student living in Woodsboro who becomes the target of a new Ghostface. Unlike previous cold-open victims, Tara survives and is put in the ICU. The attack causes her older sister, Sam (Melissa Barrera), and Sam’s boyfriend, Richie (Jack Quaid), to rush back to watch over Tara. This is apparently what Ghostface wants and leads to more murders, all centered on pulling Sam closer to the center. But why? There’s seemingly no reason why these two young women would be targeted. But Sam has kept a secret about her family for years. It was the reason she left home and never looked back. And it is the reason she has been tricked into returning to Woodsboro. Along the way, Sam seeks help from Dewey Riley (David Arquette), a washed-up ex-cop but will that be enough?
One of the things Scream (2022) deals with is the debate about “regular” horror and “elevated” horror. Tara tells Ghostface over the phone that her favorite scary movie is The Babadook, to which the killer becomes frustrated. That type of movie doesn’t fit the Scream style, but Tara argues that she only watches “elevated” horror. Later, we meet Randy Meeks’s twin niece & nephew. Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) follows in her dead uncle’s footsteps and is a horror aficionado. As a result, she can use her slasher movie knowledge to help and even adds her opinion when the topic of “elevated horror” arises. It was also nice to see Heather Matarazzo reprise her role from Scream 3 as Martha Meeks, the doting mom of these two teens.
While all the pieces are in the right places, I was very underwhelmed by the picture. I don’t think it’s bad, definitely better than Scream 3 and arguably as good or a little better than Scream 4. My problem is the clunky way the three original cast members are incorporated. It may have benefitted from not including them or letting it be Dewey alone. Gale & Sidney are superfluous to the larger plot, which is handled by Sam. Scream 4 ensured that the narrative included Sidney as a critical part, but here she’s a cameo until the back half of the second act. Gale feels even more unnecessary, and the story doesn’t do much with her that warrants her return. Maybe if they had followed a Star Wars sequels structure that slowly brings in old cast members so that each one gets a spotlight. There is already a sequel greenlit for 2023, and it would have made sense to bring Gale or Sidney in with that one, building on the events of this movie.
Unlike the previous movies, this is clearly setting up Sam to be the lead for the franchise going forward. Without spoiling it, her connection to the series is really interesting to me, and the third act hints that there is much more to explore with that aspect of her character. There is a popular cable drama series from the 2010s that I suspect the writers were inspired by, and it is a smart way to justify making another movie. It also clearly shows Sam is not Sidney Prescott; she is a different sort of final girl with some potential darkness to explore. That part of the movie has me intrigued about the next one. However, I’m not sure who will become the next Ghostface without stretching credulity and leaning into parody.
The Scream franchise is quite fun but seems to lose its intelligent edge with each successive entry. I don’t know if I would have kept it going as long as it has, but I’m willing to give a new creative team the benefit of the doubt for a couple pictures and see how they do. Unfortunately, I think we are reaching the point where there really isn’t much to do with the format.