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Scream Review: Middling Horror “Requel” Is Too Haunted By Its Own Past to Draw Fresh Blood

January 12, 2022 01:28 | By
Scream 2022

Image via Paramount

Before I explain why the new Scream movie left me disappointed, you have to understand where I’m coming from.

Scream (1996) is the reason I became a writer. No joke! I saw it when on Opening Day when I was 12 years old and it blew my adolescent mind so much that I returned the following weekend with an audio recorder smuggled inside my puffy jacket, just so I could listen to the dialogue and transcribe it when I got home. I studied that handwritten script for years as a teenager and wound up earning a screenwriting degree from NYU — big whoop, right? — so you could say I was looking forward to Scream (2022), even if deep down, I was also dreading it. Just like I’ve been dreading having to write this review for the past few hours. But the embargo is up, so out come the knives, so to speak.

About those knives… if you want to see a movie in which a bunch of teenagers get sliced and diced, go see the new Scream, by all means. It absolutely delivers in that regard. If you’re looking for a self-referential meta-movie and loved The Matrix Resurrections last month, you will certainly like the new Scream. But if you’re looking for a well-acted whodunit with thoughtful motivations and a hint of originality, you’ll have to take a stab at something else, because this ain’t it.

The real problem with this new Scream is that it can’t pick a lane, resulting in a middle-of-the-road slasher movie. I’ll give you slightly above-average, as my grade below indicates. But to be honest, I was being a little generous because I know this movie has gigantic shoes to fill, and thus comes in at a critical disadvantage.

The new Scream hails from Ready or Not directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (from filmmaking collective Radio Silence), as well as writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, and while the film is hardly an abomination like I thought the latest Matrix movie was, it’s similarly — frustratingly — lazy. What’s worse is that it even references lazy sequels and mistakes that for being clever, when really, it’s just disappointingly self-aware. Though it benefits from the history of the Scream franchise, it, unfortunately, carries all of its baggage as well, and that baggage comes back to haunt it.

Scream 2022

Image via Paramount

As the headline says, this movie is a “requel” — half-reboot, half-sequel — which is the kind of word that someone on Film Twitter used once and will now take credit for until the end of time. But the label is accurate, in that this movie can’t commit to an identity, so it succeeds as neither reboot nor sequel. It is so stuck in the paralyzing past that it can’t move the franchise forward in any meaningful way. Instead, it’s forced to carry around the original trio of Neve CampbellCourteney Cox and David Arquette (admittedly the highlight of this movie) like rotting limbs that are just waiting to be amputated, and everything plays out exactly as it did before in Woodsboro.

Scream either needed to jettison the OG3 or kill one of them off early on, but much like the Ghostbusters of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, they are either underused or poorly integrated here, for the most part. Arquette proves to be the exception because he’s given a little more to do, but I was kind of shocked how little Campbell is in this movie. It’s almost like she wanted nothing to do with it and they dragged her back. But there really is no need for Sidney to be there, and quite frankly, the character has become duller with each progressive Scream movie. She — both Sidney and Campbell herself — seems so over it by now. Likely because, no matter how you, um, slice it, these torch-passing movies sure are becoming a chore.

It just feels to me like the studio was too scared to commit to a full reboot — ‘yes, we still need those legacy characters!’ — but also too embarrassed to just churn out Scream 5 with the OG3 front-and-center. I was actually kind of shocked how little Campbell in particular is in this movie, almost like she wanted nothing to do with it and they dragged her back (with a fat check). But there really is no need for Sidney to be part of this story.

Anyway, circling back to my “requel” point above, the two twins in this movie (Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown) are related to Randy (Jamie Kennedy) from the original trilogy; another character is Stu’s nephew; another character is the secret love child of [redacted], and it’s all just so very ridiculous. You just have to trust me on this. Especially when it comes to the use of a certain location, which other critics will surely insist is so cool, but left me with more questions than awe.

The other major problem with this new Scream is that it fundamentally misunderstands the average person’s relationship with movies, which has totally changed from 1996. Back then, it made sense for teenagers (well, Randy) to be obsessed with movies because the movies were pretty much all they had. These days… not so much. They have video games and social media and virtual reality and (apparently) subReddits, so unless it’s Spider-Man, the movies don’t matter so much. And yet, everyone in this movie talks like they’re part of the Critics Choice Association.

Scream 2022

Image via Paramount

Between talk of toxic fandoms and Mary Sues, there were times I felt like this movie was made exclusively for Film Twitter, and not, like, actual movie fans, most of whom don’t even know what a Mary Sue is. This movie just feels too reactionary. The original Scream was a leader. This “requel” is a follower. The killers in the original Scream had a motive that made sense, but I’m not sure how many more times I can listen to Ghostface wax poetic on the problem with movies and fandom. Blah blah blah. You’d think every movie buff was just a serial killer waiting for the right Final Girl to come along.

Speaking of which, there’s lots of talk of elevated horror, including one too many Babadook references for a mainstream studio movie. One is enough, but to then bring that passing reference back at the end of this movie, as if it was such a major line to begin with? It’s like, wow, how many people does Paramount think saw The Babadook? None of my high school buddies know that movie, and I doubt too many teens do either. So again, besides Film Twitter, who is this Scream movie supposed to be for? People who like Scream movies, or people who have seen The Babadook? I know those are not two mutually exclusive groups, but trust me, there’s not as much overlap there as some of my colleagues would have you believe.

And while I’m well aware that movie trivia is a hallmark of this particular franchise, I was a little surprised that Scream went back to the old “do you wanna play a game?” and “what’s your favorite scary movie?” well. It’s all been done before, so… why do it again, exactly? Is it because that’s the point of a sequel, to serve up some golden oldies and play the greatest hits with some fresh faces? I was just hoping the filmmakers would put their own twist on this franchise, but they use the same modified voice, the same weapon, the same location(s), the same (shall we say, ill-fitting) costume… everything is just The Same, and by the time you’re introduced to characters named ‘Wes’ and ‘Carpenter,’ it’s just like, OK, we get it!

Since this is a horror movie, after all, it’s fair to ask, is it even scary? And the answer is, not really. There are lots of jump scare fake-outs, where you’re expecting a jump-scare, and then there isn’t one, and that’s the scare in and of itself because it’s subverting your expectations… but then the character turns around and whoomp, there it is! It’s those moments where a character opens a refrigerator door that directors Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin try to milk for suspense, but they rarely really work because we’ve seen those fake-outs countless times before.

On the performance front, Melissa Barerra left me somewhat unimpressed as the film’s lead, and promising young Jenna Ortega outshines her in every scene they share together. Of course, the writing and direction often leave Barrera stranded, and she’s not being asked to play the typical Scream Queen, but her performance left something to be desired.

Scream 2022

Image via Paramount

Additionally, the supporting cast here isn’t great either. The first Scream movie boasted memorable turns from Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, and Kennedy, who no doubt set the bar high. After all, those performances continue to endure. The truth is that none of the supporting turns here will. Jack Quaid and Dylan Minnette will still be the guys from The Boys and 13 Reasons Why. You will still remember Mason Gooding from Booksmart and Mikey Madison from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Fair or not, that’s either a testament to those films or a reflection of this one.

And because there are so many young characters that need to be serviced in addition to the OG3, character depth is often either short-changed or sacrificed altogether. One of my earliest AOL screennames was RandyMeeks, named after Kennedy’s character, a fan favorite. I can’t imagine who would name their primary handle after a character in this new movie. That’s the difference in the writing, which is almost always my primary concern when watching a movie, and especially when reviewing one.

So, what works? Arquette, Ortega, and, for the most part, Quaid, plus there’s some pretty gnarly gore in this movie, including several up-close stabbings made more realistic with the aid of top-notch makeup work. And props to production designer Chad Keith for some clever nods to the original. Unfortunately, I found Brian Tyler‘s score lacking with the exception of the return of Dewey’s theme.

Other complaints? Well, with the exception of Sheriff Hicks (Marley Shelton), there are basically no parents or adults in this movie, which makes no sense considering the mounting body count. When one of the main characters is nearly killed, her out-of-town mother — who it would be nice to see, ahem!! — calls to check on her, and then that’s it. Perhaps I was spoiled with parental affection, but that kind of stuff just isn’t realistic in this day and age where cell phones unite us all.

Scream 2022

Image via Paramount

Also, for a movie with no parents around, the new Scream is also weirdly sexless, mainly because the characters are too busy pointing fingers at one another to do anything else with them. Sex is treated as an afterthought, and everyone is completely paranoid. Which I suppose is fitting for the time, given the pandemic and its chilling effect on hookup culture.

All due respect to the Radio Silence guys, whose V/H/S segment showed promise, but I long suspected they were the wrong choice for this movie. Everyone was like, ‘yay, the Ready or Not guys are at the helm,’ but just as Scream (2022) surely will be, Ready or Not was also overrated. It’s a movie that ended with everyone literally exploding, and it felt pretty juvenile to me. The end of Scream feels similarly planned and executed, more concerned with cheap fan service than innovation, and it’s that lack of daring that proves to be this movie’s fatal flaw.

And while it was nice to see the directors dedicate their “requel” to the memory of original Scream director Wes Craven and bring back the franchise’s trademark photo credits, I thought that the music that played over the end credits was all wrong. It felt like the kind of song that might end a movie — you guessed it! — back in 1996. Maybe that was intentional, but if it was, it’s the kind of false note that only Film Twitter could love.

I’m sorry if it sounds like I was super down on the new Scream, which is hardly the worst horror movie ever made. But when you’re chasing the gold standard from the past 25 years and deliver a movie that’s rarely as engaging as it should be, don’t blame me for going for the jugular. Movies may not create psychos, I just wish the original Scream could’ve somehow made this new one more creative.

Grade: C+