A film review by Craig J. Koban March 8, 2022

SCREAM (2022) jj

2022, R, 114 mins.

Melissa Barrera as Sam Carpenter  /  David Arquette as Dewey Riley  /  Jenna Ortega as Tara Carpenter  /  Jack Quaid as Richie Kirsch  /  Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers  /  Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott  /  Mikey Madison as Amber Freeman  /  Jasmin Savoy Brown as Mindy Meeks-Martin  /  Dylan Minnette as Wes Hicks  /  Skeet Ulrich as Billy Loomis  /  Kyle Gallner as Vince Schneider  /  Roger L. Jackson as Ghostface (voice)  /  Reggie Conquest as Deputy Farney  /  Chester Tam as Deputy Vinson

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett  /  Written by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick

There's a brief moment in the newest SCREAM sequel (confusingly titled just SCREAM despite really being SCREAM 5) that made me literally point at the screen - just like the Leonardo DiCaprio meme - and say out loud "Man, that's some dumb writing right there." 

Without going into any spoilers, let's just say the moment in question involves a character shooting the franchise's frequently unkillable serial stalker killer Ghostface multiple times in the body.  The mad villain certainly appears to be dead, but students of SCREAM canon (and you'd also think the people that populate these movies) know better.  Now, instead of the shooter quickly popping a couple of rounds into the fallen baddie's head (two in the head, you know they're dead, if you ask me when it comes to eradicating horror film killers) and quickly unmasking him (or her) he decides to do nothing to ensure this vile creature's death...and then walks away...thinks about it for a minute...and then decides to walk back to the presumed dead body to check and make sure he/she is actually dead.  

The end results of his inaction are achingly predictable.  

Have these characters learned nothing over the course of four previous films?  And why is the hospital that this scene takes place in completely void of other patients, visitors, doctors, nurses, and/or security guards?  This is the most hilariously empty hospital in movie history. 

Yeah...this is some dumb writing. 

While watching the mostly scare-free and redundant SCREAM all I could do was think fondly back to the 1996 franchise spawning original...SCREAM (yeah, annoying) from horror veteran director Wes Craven and then novice screenwriter Kevin Williamson; it was an absolutely radical game changer for a genre on critical life support.  The first SCREAM was essentially a mad slasher picture that featured an iconically costumed monster carving his way through multiple teenagers.  On paper, its premise was about as dime a dozen as they come, but what Williamson and Craven did with this obligatory material was smart and fresh in the way they made their characters highly articulate and self aware when it came to horror movie troupes.  They expressed an adoration and level of spirited criticism about the best and worst aspects of slasher films, which allowed for them (well, most of them) to use their cinematic knowledge to one-up the killer at large.  SCREAM was not the first self-aware and self-referential horror film for Craven, but it was his best, and its massive critical and audience success spawned inevitable sequels, the first of which was arguably as good as the original, whereas the third entry and the mostly forgettable and most recent sequel in 2012 made me think that the innovative well of this franchise had been sucked dry. 



SCREAM (this new fifth entry, not the original...yeah...annoying) comes off as a copy of a copy of a copy...of a copy of the first installment from 25 years ago, and the creative desperation this go around feels even more pronounced.  Perhaps more so than with any of the previous sequels, this one straight up annoyed me, mostly because its makers think they are being smart about horror film conventions (and soft reboot Hollywood culture), but instead just fall pathetic victim to the very formulas they're trying to transcend.  Whereas SCREAM 1 had a healthy balance between harnessing routine slasher elements and sarcastically mocking them, SCREAM 5 (and its two last prequels) seems to be lazily swimming and drowning within them.  This all has the bad side effect of making this latest endeavor all the more cynical minded as a cheap cash grab.  Yes, there are some momentary pleasures to be had with mixing in everybody's favorite legacy characters with a new squad of fresh faced performers (call it THE FORCE AWAKENS effect), but directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (replacing the deceased Craven and who previously made the dreadfully under-seen horror thriller READY OR NOT) and writers James Vanderbit and Guy Busick (replacing Williamson) can't seem to find their way through this tired outing to deliver something wholly fresh.  Ultimately, this is a nostalgia bait sequel (or "re-quel," to quote one character) high on fan servicing autopilot...and not much more. 

The opening of this new SCREAM is a replication of the opening of the first film, but to be fair it features the sensational Jenna Ortega (who just gave an Oscar caliber performance in THE FALLOUT) occupying the modern day Drew Barrymore victim here.  She plays Tara, who's about to engage in some downtime until the Ghostface killer calls her (hey, who has a home line anymore?) and then crashes into her home and attempts to cut her into pieces.  She miraculously survives, and when her older sister in Sam (IN THE HEIGHT's luminous and talented Melissa Barrera, kind of lost here) finds out she quickly returns back to her Woodsboro home to visit her critical injured sibling at the hospital.  She's comforted by her boyfriend in Richie (Jack Quaid) and their mutual friends: Wes (Dylan Minnette), Liv (Sonia Ben Ammar), Amber (Mikey Madison) and twins Chad (Mason Gooding) and Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown).  Through the Law of Economy of Characters, it's abundantly clear that one of these teens will be revealed to be the Ghostface murderer in the end, but well before that Sam realizes that she might be in way over her head, so she decides to recruit those that have the experience in dealing with matters such as these, like the middle aged Dewie (David Arquette) and eventually the two other women that survived all of the previous films in Sidney (Neve Campbell) and Gale (Courtney Cox).  Oh, one other "legacy" character returns in hallucination form (and with some shoddy de-aging visual effects) that is revealed to have a secret relationship with one of the new characters here. 

SCREAM 5 has a few interesting ideas at play with regurgitating this franchise yet again, especially when it comes to commenting on how horror cinema has changed since the mid 90s.  There are some spirited jabs about the fact that there have been eight (yes, EIGHT) STAB movies made inspired by the original Woodsboro murders, with the last one being despised by fans for not spoon feeding them exactly what they wanted (it was, of course, directed by Rian Johnson...ha!).  I also liked the aforementioned opening scene with the superb Ortega (she might be a far better actress then this sequel deserves) offering up her generation's thoughts on what constitutes real horror to Ghostface on the phone (her answer to being asked about her favorite scary movie is THE BABADOCK as well as HEREDITARY and IT FOLLOWS (for being smart and elevated genre efforts).  And, yeah, it's a cool delight to see a dialed down Arquette returning to play his aging crippled ex-man of the law that has proven to be the series' most infectiously likeable character (granted, he has pathetically fallen on really hard times on top of the years advancing on him).    

Is it a good thing, though, when Arquette's Dewy is the best thing in this fifth and new SCREAM film?  I dunno.  It seems like a doubled edged sword.  Campbell and Cox aren't in the film enough to make a sizeable impact, and even when they make their presence felt they look more visibly bored than at any other time in this franchise.  The newcomers playing off of them are relatively decent, but none of them come off as memorably unique as their predecessors did decades ago when the madness of this cinematic universe started.  More so now than ever, these young adults spew out pop/movie culture laced diatribes about horror films, legacy sequels, remakes, re-quels, etc. and the rules contained within...and it really feels like product of a screenwriter and not the organically relayed thoughts of these adolescents.  SCREAM 5 is high also high on replication without audacious innovation.  It uses the first film as a blueprint guide to dictate this film's narrative, right down to the initial attack, the teens banding together to formulate a plan of defence, a lot of bickering about Hollywood contrivances, and the would-be shocking climax with the Scooby-Doo reveal of Ghostface's real identity (or identities).  The wash, rinse, and repeat cycle of SCREAM is as subtle as multiple knife thrusts to the chest. 

It also becomes truly hard to not asking questions about this sequel's internal logic (or lack thereof).  Despite Sidney, Gale, and Dewie having intimate first hand experience with the previous Ghostface killers, they manage to make cardinal blunders here that oh-so-many horror film characters make (the kind that this series ironically loves to chastise).  I'm still puzzled why a person as quadruple traumatized as Sidney would ever want to return to her hometown again to face this same nightmare all over again.  The laughable plot holes pile up a lot throughout the course of SCREAM, and the makers here have a clear passion for this series and want to craft something fiendishly original, but they lack the wherewithal to commit and follow-through on such an endeavor.  I mentioned that scene in the hospital earlier and honestly felt like I was experiencing critical deja vu...only to find out that SCREAM 4 also incredulously contained a nearly identical sequence set in a hospital that also seemed completely void of any other people outside of the killer and a few of his prey.  Why are so many places in the SCREAM films so hopelessly unguarded...and at hilariously convenient times? 

In the end, I can only see SCREAM being considered a must-see for the franchise's die hard devotees, but I think that even they will have a hard time justifying this sequel's existence.  Outside of obvious financial motive from the studio to milk an established property for even more box office dollars, I'm left asking a simple question: Do enough people out there care about another SCREAM sequel, and one with a hip and trendy shelf-life that has come and gone past its expiration date?  I doubt it.  I remember leaving 1996's SCREAM fully believing that I saw something made with a pioneering and revolutionary spirit that energized an ever-increasingly dull genre, but after watching the latest SCREAM (and, most recently, the monumentally awful HALLOWEEN KILLS) I'm growing less tolerant of franchise do-overs and continuations and just want something...well...new.  

SCREAM 1 subversively winked at audiences and let them know it was in on the joke.  This SCREAM is just a pale imitator and a pathetic joke.

  H O M E