Functioning as both a remake and a sequel – or “requel” – the fifth film in the Scream franchise is the best instalment since the 1996 original.
Horror is a fascinating and robust genre that’s unlike any other. It’s comprised of countless variants, from zombies and ghosts to killer toys and found footage. The tributaries flow in from all directions and the genre adapts with the times, always finding a way to reflect the state of the world at any given moment.
It also tends to come in waves, with each passing decade being dominated by whatever sub-genres are popular with the teens of the time. Vampires reigned supreme thanks to Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyers, while filmmakers like Eli Roth and James Wan were responsible for the return of the video nasty (otherwise known as torture porn). And through it all the ever-reliable slasher movie endures, often reimagined but ultimately the same.
A Nightmare on Elm Street director Wes Craven and Dawson Creek scribe Kevin Williamson were the first to properly revive the slasher with their 1996 hit, Scream. It was a typical slice-n-dice horror movie, which rode the coattails of so many before it and pandered to a generation of particularly cinema-savvy teenagers. It took the beloved formula of movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th and replicated all of the tropes with a cynical eye. The film identified with the viewer and – in turn – subverted everything they thought they knew. It was clever and refreshing and it paved the way for an avalanche of copycat titles.
Scream spawned two sequels in quick succession, followed by a fourth film a decade later (Wes Craven’s final film before his passing in 2015), each continuing the cocky self-referential commentaries to varying effect. And now, after another 11-years has passed, comes Scream 5 – or as promoted, simply Scream – a “requel” that is by far the best instalment since the original.
If the term “requel” has your eyes rolling, then good, because it’s supposed to. It is one of the many terms used in the film to describe the modern state of cinema. Where Craven’s ’96 film explored the effects of movie violence on teenagers, this latest chapter attempts to examine (and ridicule) its very own existence in a cinemascape populated by remakes, reboots, spin-offs and multiverses. Suffice to say that Scream requires a moderate-to-good knowledge of pop culture and a definite comprehension of the Scream franchise.
The movie opens with an updated recreation of the original film’s infamous introduction, and establishes its contemporary placing. A killer stalks his victim and plays a sinister game over the phone. His love for “scary movies” of the ‘80s and ‘90s is challenged by a girl who prefers existential (or “elevated”) horror movies like The Babadook, Hereditary and It Follows. It’s a new time and a new era, and thanks to good ol’ Ghostface the slasher movie is making a comeback, renewed and ready for a new generation of teens.
Scream ‘22 serves as a direct sequel, relying most heavily on the events of the first movie, and with Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette reprising their roles alongside an ensemble of newcomers, the film feels fresh and not as worn down as the previous instalments. With the killer focused on sisters Sam and Tara (Melissa Berrera and Jenna Ortega), the girls enlist the help of Dewey Riley (Arquette), the former cop who has been stabbed by Ghostface a total of nine times. He knows the horror movie rules and establishes a criteria to expose which of the girls’ friends is the killer…
There’s no doubt that the Scream franchise comes with a generous dose of fatigue, a fact that’s not lost on directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, whose previous film was the fantastic comedy-horror Ready or Not. They play every trope and every beat with the viewer in mind – they’re aware of cynicism and they know that we’ve seen it all before. In fact they agree with us, and in doing so have the cheeky benefit of pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes. The movie they have delivered is completely contrived, and all it takes are a few winks to let us in on the joke.
Most importantly (at least for over-zealous horror hounds) is that Scream ‘22 is violent and offers an arrangement of deliciously depraved slashings and a cache of glorious kills. The camera doesn’t flinch, and the bloody carnage is offered up with relish.
The film does overstay its welcome by at least 15 minutes and would benefit from a tighter edit, but otherwise there’s little to complain about here, with familiar faces joining new ones to offer a self-referential exploit that leans on nostalgia without seeming desperate or tacky.
In cinemas: January 13, 2022
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette
Directed by: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett