Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tylor Gillett
Screenplay: James Vanderbilt. Guy Busick
Starring: Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox
Review: David Stephens
At the start of Scream '22, there's a text that says, "Is Wes still bugging you?" And yes… yes, he is. But in a good way. That text may refer to a character in the film, but Wes Craven's connection and dedication to the horror genre is still going strong. Case in point is this "requel" (the term is qualified and explained in the movie) of the popular franchise, which successive generations of fans have enjoyed. All four films had Wes behind the camera and the same three actors in the same lead roles. Each one took a meta-shot at the genre in terms of horror traits and sequel twists. And now here's Scream '22… and yes, we're calling it that because we're bored of reboots/sequels stealing the original's title. And guess what? The plot and several characters agree with us! Plus the fact the oldest of us remembers when the "Airport" films did that in the 70s. Anyway, this new entry is co-directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who were both responsible for the fun Ready or Not and are part of the Radio Silence collective. It's had good advance word, it's in UK and US cinemas right now, and we saw it.
It starts (of course) with a ringing phone and a bemused teenager who can't understand why someone would still use a landline. From that point, events (and very bloody stabbings) conspire to bring Woodsboro native Sam Carpenter (nicely played by Melissa Barrera) back to the small town that she fled from years ago; she's scared for the life of a loved one, especially as someone has donned the iconic Ghostface mask again and is carving up the locals. Using the popular "Stab" movie franchise as a reference point for the survival rules and pointers to the killer, Sam must confront her personal demons and see if she's got what it takes to be the "new girl". And of course, it wouldn't be a "Scream" if Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) didn't come back to the 'boro also.
The opening sequence sets the tone for the whole experience. It's the same set-up as the opener from the original Scream,… but it isn't. To qualify that further, the ringing phone is seen from a modern teenager's perspective (i.e. Landline? WTF?), and the first words you hear are different from what you're expecting. However, and without giving things away, things gradually become more "familiar". And that's pretty much Scream '22 in a nutshell. It is more of the same, but with a modern twist and the characters sharing the same knowledge as their audience. However, whereas Scream 4 flirted with the ideas of reboots and modern technology, these are now part of the main action. One very nice touch is that along with the references to classic horror such as Halloween and Friday the 13th, the fictional Stab franchise is fleshed out to a hilarious degree, with the recent Stab 8 being a reboot with a silver-masked Ghostface, no Sidney Prescott, and a flamethrower as a weapon. The fans hated it!
A further positive point is the respect and definition given to the "legacy" characters of Sidney and Co. even Dewey is given moments to shine and show how their characters have changed over the years. Although Sam seems to have been a slightly divisive character for some reviewers, she actually makes a fine faux Sidney and isn't just a cookie-cutter "final girl". One thing that's always stood out about the Scream films is that characters' deaths are never easy, with their last struggles shown to be genuinely disturbing. This version has Ghostface showing a particularly sadistic streak with a knife, with one slow and nasty neck wound being shown unflinchingly as the victim struggles in vain.
2022's Scream also holds the distinction for being the most "meta" entry in the franchise. We're not talking meta; we're talking META. One character explains what a "requel" is and how it means that anyone could be the killer. "Legacy" characters are referred to precisely like that. A podcast calls out horror film sequels for stealing the original's title (told you!). By the time we get to the final act, we even get characters shouting at one another about how they're spoiling the ending or not playing their role properly and suchlike. If they stretch that fourth wall any further, they're going to break it like Deadpool. This also extends to some sequences where the genre fans expectations and knowledge of cliches or traits are played with. One long scene has around five or six different opportunities where it sets up Ghostface to jump out… but they're false set-ups… until it isn't. Even so, there are a few too many "false" jump-scares for its own good.
When we get to the final reveal, it's clever without being too clever, although the motives and logistics don't hold water, but this has been the case ever since Scream 2, really. Unfortunately, like many films with a lot of hype and good reviews, this is not quite as good as we were expecting. Don't get us wrong. It's no Halloween Kills let-down. It's a solid and enjoyable franchise entry, but it's still nowhere near the original in terms of impact, style, and … err … originality. The level of self-reference and meta agenda is pushed just a little too hard as well. Having said that, it's great to see Campbell, Cox, and Arquette together again and treated with reverence. All of them bring some unexpected emotional weight and evolution to their characters, and it's nice seeing how they've "moved onwards" since the events of Scream 4. Boomers, millennials, and Gen-Zs can all get entertainment from this without feeling condescended to. It's telling that The Babadook is someone's response to THAT question.
Overall, this is a cool addition, and we wouldn't be averse to seeing more from the survivors in a follow-up (as long as it's not Scream Kills… chants of "Ghostface dies tonight!"…. Please God, no!). It's satisfying, and the words "For Wes" bring a lump to the throat, but it's not a phenomenal or game-changing event in any way. Just be prepared for more characters to "Scooby-Doo this shit" and enjoy the experience for what it is.