Scream 2022 is brutally fun and very surprising

Ghostface returns in Scream, the unnumbered fifth film in the horror franchise.Image: Paramount

The best of the new Scream is that it knows everything.

It knows you’re skeptical, it’s the fifth movie in a franchise. It knows you’re wondering why the title isn’t just “Scream 5” to maintain continuity. It knows that thanks to streaming/the internet/movies like the first Scream, the public will be much more knowledgeable about movies in 2022 than in 1996. And, most importantly, it knows that after 11 years of absence (Scream 4 was released in 2011), and 11 more before that (Scream 3 was released in 2000), Scream may not be the big screen powerhouse it once was and it better do something new to keep yourself relevant. Whether or not it’s successful on that last point is certainly up for debate, but we’re happy to report that it’s surprising and clever for all of the above and more. Add to that a lot of diabolical mystery and a lot of gruesome horrors, and the fifth Scream is a worthy addition to the popular franchise.

The Scream franchise was created by original writer Kevin Williamson, who this time is back as an executive producer. Unfortunately, his partner in crime, legendary director Wes Craven (who has directed all four previous films), is died in 2015. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, two-thirds of a film group called Radio Silence. They are best known for the 2019 movie Ready or Not, one of those self-conscious movies with Scream in every pore of its DNA, making the couple a good fit. The script was written by James Vanderbilt (Zodiac) and Guy Busick (Ready or Not), meaning Scream is actually a movie by a group of Scream fans, with a key figure from the past in Williamson. It is a rationale and ideology that is also carried through on the screen.

Sidney and Gail, back together. Image: Paramount

Although it’s no secret that Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette reprise their roles as Sidney, Gale and Dewey respectively, they probably only make up about 20% of the plot. The main plot revolves around Sam (In the Heights’ Melissa Barrera), a young woman who mysteriously left the infamous town of Woodsboro after high school. However, she and her boyfriend Richie (The Boys’ Jack Quaid) return when Sam’s sister Tara (Jane the Virgin’s Jenna Ortega) and her friends (played by Dylan Minnette of 13 Reasons Why, Jasmin Savoy Brown of Yellowjackets, Mason Gooding, and more. from Booksmart and Mikey Madison from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) begin to be terrorized by Ghostface.

Even there, you can see how this Scream ups the ante from the previous one. The cast is wonderfully diverse, giving 2022 Woodsboro a more modern, realistic, recognizable feel. This is not the same place that Billy and Stu terrorized in the first movie and as a result Ghostface can and will appear in places where we are not used to Ghostface appearing. The directors also use that uncertainty with great success, they scare where we don’t expect it and fake-outs where we are. Other times it turns. The whole movie has a necessary, welcome, awkward feeling as if the rules have changed this time around. Of course they really don’t. Ghostface will still show up and brutally kill people, yet the film has a nature that brings it closer to the original than the sequels. Not to mention the dead are disgusting and increasingly brutal, in that fun horror movie way.

It’s not looking good for Tara. Image: Paramount

Like all the previous parts, most of Scream is about figuring out who Ghostface is and why they’re killing all these people. At various points in the film, you’ll swear you’ve figured it out, only to change that mind a scene later one scene. In fact, when I watched the movie, I was so sure of getting it that I wrote a name and explanation in my notes so I could be like “Ha! Got it!” to all my friends. It turns out I was very wrong.

However, this is how this Scream really stands out from the crowd. In this film I would say that the murder motives are more interesting and corrupting than the identity of the killer. Seriously. I would (but I won’t!) tell you who the murderer(s) is/are and you would certainly be surprised, but if I told you why he/she/they did it, you would be even more surprised and shocked. It’s all wrapped up in the way this Scream pays tribute to the franchise’s past, while also being a movie that feels very recognisable in 2022. Don’t worry, it’s not political or anything, but you should being able to discuss it as if it were politics when you get out of the theater. That potential divisiveness and willingness to engage audiences in such candid, direct ways is, I think, the film’s greatest gift. However, it will certainly also become the biggest opponent. Some people will get really pissed off, and that’s exactly the point.

Sam is our newest Scream queen.Image: Paramount

Along the way, the new cast really feels at home in the confines of a Scream movie. Barrera’s Sam is capable and confident, while he doesn’t give a fuck about almost anything. Savoy Brown and Gooding play uniquely funny twins who are at each other’s throats, but always have that special sibling love beneath the surface. Quaid is perfect as the always suspicious boyfriend and Minnette is likeable and sweet at the same time. Everyone is great, down to the last detail.

The same goes for the original cast. Although they don’t have much to do this time around, Campbell, Cox and Arquette improve the film every time they appear on screen. Part of it is how the script moves the characters forward, not just since Scream 4, but all the way back to the original, and part of it is just an elusive level of comfort. Campbell and Cox are 10 years more badass this time, getting into the movie and showering it with expertise and class. But it is mainly Arquette, who has to play a much more complex Dewey here, who ultimately steals the show.

Who is behind the mask? Image: Paramount

Scream is a worthy, creepy, gory addition to the franchise. It plays with your expectations in a way that leaves you guessing from start to finish and into pop culture pockets that you almost certainly don’t expect, but makes perfect sense. You might love it, you might hate it, but if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll probably appreciate it as you laugh and cheer all the time.

io9 saw Scream at a low-capacity press screening in a cinema, with vaccinations required and health forms pre-filled. We realize that not everyone has that opportunity and urge you to be as safe as possible if you choose to go to the theater. Scream doesn’t hit theaters until Friday, but will be available on Paramount+ 45 days later.

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