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Scream (2022)

JANUARY 11, 2022

GENRE: SLASHER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (PRESS SCREENING)

Despite, you know, everything, Scream (aka Scream 5, goddamn them for adding confusion!) is projected to make around 40 million dollars this weekend, which means it will outgross 2011's Scream 4's entire take in three days. One can attribute this revived enthusiasm to a variety of things: the new (and very diverse, correcting one of the few flaws of the original) cast bringing in a different set of fans, the polarizing Halloween Kills leaving slasher junkies wanting something a little more traditional, the fact that Scream 4 has found a bigger fanbase over the years (mainly from younger viewers who weren't able to see it in theaters)... but ultimately I think it boils down to one primary thing: it simply looks GOOD.

And it IS good! Really good, in fact! But - and not to shamelessly plug, I touched upon this in the newest issue of Fangoria, so apologies for repeating myself a bit here - the trailer's tone suggested that this, unlike the previous two entries, was returning to the suspense and scariness of the first film and its 1997 sequel, which until today was the only one I found to be a worthy successor. Whereas the first two films were horror movies with humor, the 3rd and 4th films were closer to comedies with some scary stuff thrown in; S4 tried to split the difference, but the tone was still a bit too light for my tastes, and there was no real sense of danger, to either our core trio of Sid, Gale, and Dewey, or the new kids who had their screentime (and thus, chance to flesh out their characters) handicapped by constantly having to step aside and let the original stars continue to be the main characters.

At this point I'll have to just warn you that there are some spoilers ahead. I will not say who the killer or killers is/are, or reveal any other surprise appearances or who dies, but I will be getting more into the film's story than the marketing has let on, because it's somewhat unavoidable. You are warned to proceed with caution, and if you want to stop now, I'll just leave you with my ranking: 1, 2, 5, 4, 3. That should more or less tell you how much you may or may not enjoy this one.

This film's all-new creative team (directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett of Ready or Not fame, writers Guy Busick and James Vanderbilt) bites the bullet and (finally!) sidelines the veteran cast members, wisely opting to focus exclusively on the new cast for like a half an hour (with the exception of Marley Shelton's Judy Hicks, who is now the sheriff but is primarily used as the mother of one of our new leads) before slowly working our old pals into the mix. Our new hero Samantha (Melissa Barrera) is a former Woodsboro resident whose sister (still living there) is attacked by Ghostface, so she returns to town and quickly realizes why someone with *that* costume might be targeting them. And so she turns to "the expert": Dewey Riley, who has retired and is no longer married to Gale, instead living in a trailer like Heath Ledger in the 3rd act of Brokeback Mountain, alone with his regrets.

Dewey in turn messages Gale and Sid, telling them that there's a new Ghostface and urging them not to come back, but as the body count starts to rise, they naturally don't listen to him. Thankfully, enough happens to make it clear that it would take some incredible 4D chess manuevering on Ghostface's part if their plan was to ruin Sidney's life, as it almost seems a surprise to them that she arrives on the scene when she does. Not that Sid is peripheral to the story (though I wasn't surprised to see Neve Campbell got the "and" billing, with her pals under "with"), but the killer's motive has to do with the whole Woodsboro history, not specifically Sid, so she is just part of the puzzle as opposed to the main focus. And even if the killer wasn't concerned with her at all, fans will absolutely adore her scenes, both in terms of where she is in her life now and how she has come to accept her seeming inability to keep Ghostface out of her life for good. It's clear the filmmakers have seen 2018's Halloween revival (indeed, it's directly mentioned in the film), but thankfully their interpretation of our girl isn't inspired by either of Jamie Lee Curtis' big returns to that franchise*; if anything it's closer to how Leia was used in the newest Star Wars films.

You might think that's an odd comparison, but it's an easy one to make since the movie cracks a joke about Rian Johnson "ruining" the Stab series by directing the 8th one, a not too subtle gag about how much whiny SW fans overreacted to his The Last Jedi (aka Episode 8). One of the new characters is Randy's niece Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), who more or less fills in his duties as the one who knows how these things work, so it falls on her to clue her less astute pals into what they're dealing with. In a very well done scene with all the new kids plus Dewey, she's the one who explains that remakes are no longer in vogue and what people like now are "requels", in which new characters are blended with the older ones (it's here that she references Halloween, but the new Star Wars films are the better example). And yeah, that's kind of what Scream 4 was doing as well, but as those namechecked movies - which didn't exist yet - proved, we don't need to center everything around the older stars, and it can occasionally even work better without them. Without spoiling any particulars, a Scream 6 COULD have older characters back, but honestly, this film's efforts have demonstrated that they can be left out of it entirely and the film will still be appealing. I might not have been as excited for this film without their return (as they did a lot of heavy lifting to legitimize it as a real Scream movie when Wes Craven was obviously not involved and Kevin Williamson's participation was largely ceremonial), but if Paramount announces that Scream 6 will focus on the new survivors and leave the old guard out of it, I'd certainly be just as interested, if not more so.

And that's one place they succeeded where Scream 4 failed, at least for me. By constantly working the legacy characters into the story and once again having the killer blame Sidney for the misfortunes in their own life, the new cast in S4 never got a chance to come into their own, and then the script killed them all off anyway (except for maybe Kirby, whose fate is finally cleared up in this one), making it seem like two hour exercise in returning things to status quo. That's not how this one plays out; everything is from the POV of Sam or her sister Tara (Jenna Ortega), and by the end you will care as much about them and the others (Sam's boyfriend Richie, Tara's girlfriend Amber, Mindy and her brother Chad, Judy's son Wes, etc) as much as you did Randy, Tatum, etc. And, without giving away names or numbers, I think it's safe to say the script wisely leaves more than just one or two of them alive to see a Scream 6 if one should be commissioned.

But fear not, this isn't a tame film by any means. Craven probably spun in his grave if they were able to pass this film with minimal MPAA issues, as it is BRUTAL. Not torture-y, thankfully (Scream 4 was the time to tackle that aspect of horror, and they blew it), but Ghostface is more stab-happy than he's been since he killed Randy, as nearly every victim is stabbed multiple times, with copious amounts of blood and even the occasional prosthetic gag (someone gets it in - and back out of - their neck, it's gnarly as hell). One victim's pool of blood legit left me unsettled, though part of it was that they were one of the film's most endearing characters and I was sad to see them go. The body count may not be as high as some of the others, but the kills all matter, and the new team establishes a real sense of menace that allows the tension to keep rising in ways the previous two sequels lacked. At one point I legit feared for Sidney's life - that hasn't happened in 25 years (let's not forget early drafts of Scream 2 did leave her mortally wounded, so it's not like the idea is completely out of the question).

They're also hellbent on being suspenseful again, teasing out many kill scenes and utilizing our familiarity with horror to their advantage. There's a great sequence where a would-be victim - in a house where we know Ghostface is lurking - manages to find a way to open multiple doors and then close them, with our expectations (aided by Brian Tyler's score, which is quite good and a fine replacement for Marco Beltrami) deflated over and over as we expect the killer to suddenly be there when the door is closed. There are some really good moments involving everyone pointing fingers with others not knowing who to believe (shades of the bit in the original where Randy and Stu are both accusing the other), and while there aren't a lot of full on chase scenes, there is one good one involving a "Find Me" app that is not only a good sequence but also checks off the "use new technology" box that S4 sometimes over-relied on. There's nothing as scary as that opening from the original or as well crafted as the AV room chase in S2, but there is a clear intent to *aim* for those highs, and they occasionally get real close. I mean, I'm 42 years old in a few weeks - I can't expect to be jumping out of my chair like I did all those years ago when he appeared on the other side of the window with Casey. But by emphasizing suspense and not undercutting the horror moments with comedy as much as the previous sequels (hell, even 2 did this a bit), I barely noticed.

Fear not though, it still has some solid humor. Again, tonally it's very much in line with the first two films, but when they do go for a laugh, it actually works. An early victim scoffs at movies like Stab, saying she prefers "elevated horror" like The Witch and The Babadook, Sid and Gale's sort of jaded attitude about having to deal with another of these guys is hilarious (at one point they see someone crying for help, bleeding, and they stop to discuss whether or not it's a trap) and there is a gag about Dewey texting Gale that floored me. There are also some great easter eggs/jokes for hardcore fans; as a little nod to Williamson, a character watches Dawson's Creek in the hospital (and the particular episode they chose was... well, you'll see. But Josh Jackson wasn't the only Scream veteran to be on the show, I'll leave it at that!). And I advise you to listen very carefully to Gale's morning show monologue, as well as train your eye at the "related videos" when someone watches a review of Stab 8 on Youtube.

On that note, there's something in the film I found very smart in addition to satisfying a personal pet peeve: empty text message histories! The logic of filmmakers is that characters never have older messages on their screen when they are texting plot matters to other characters, because the audience will be distracted trying to read the other ones and the editor doesn't want to have the phone on screen that long. Which I get in a way, but it still drives me insane when I see someone text their boyfriend for what appears to be the first time in their life. Here, most of the screens do indeed have older, inconsequential messages above the one they're typing, BUT! there are two exceptions, which stand out in this film of otherwise loaded text screens and quickly tells us, without having to spell it out, that these are characters who are no longer on speaking terms. It's just a little thing, but it just goes to show how much thought they were putting into the film's reality, instead of the indifference that peppered the previous two entries.

As for the killer or killers, I obviously can't get into that too much; maybe by the time it comes to Blu-ray I can do a "Collins' Crypt" style piece somewhere with my thoughts (and I have plenty!). However, I will say that their motive was not only more interesting than "I just want to be famous", but also pretty spot on and even somewhat worrisome, circling back in a modern way to the "blame the movies" idea in a way that actually makes some interesting points about modern fandom. I do wish there could have been something more personal along with it to match Billy's second motive (the one that seemed to surprise even Stu), that Sid's mother is the reason his own mother left, but since the premise of the film is built around people with connections to the original crew (Randy's niece and nephew, the new owners of Stu's house, etc.) I suppose it might veer into silly territory if there was yet another link.

Ultimately, I have very few complaints. One is just a "me" thing - I pegged (a or the) killer pretty early on, which I attribute to just overdosing on these things; it's not a dealbreaker, but I wish I had turned out to be wrong just to remind me that I don't, in fact, know everything when it comes to slasher movies. Another is more valid: there's a third act attempt to have us suspecting a character who we had previously seen being menaced by Ghostface when they were otherwise alone, which might have worked somewhere in the *first* act, but by that point we knew the film was too smart/careful to try to pull that sort of nonsense on us, so I wish they had rethought their approach. It'd be like Ghostface-Stu stabbing Billy without Sid in the room to see it. And that aforementioned use of Stu's house is treated as a big reveal, complete with a "dun dun DUNNNNN" zoom out of the doorway to reveal the exterior, which cuts into the tension of the moment for something that viewers would have already realized anyway (the interior hasn't changed much!) or still won't really understand the significance.

But I mean, come on. Two of my three complaints are nerdy nonsense, which should tell you how much they got right in my eyes. My main disappointment had nothing to do with the movie, it was simply that Scream 4 exists. When Dewey calls Sid and tells her "it's happening again", marking her first appearance in the movie, you almost wish that you could imagine a. it's been 20 years since we last saw her and b. it's been even longer since she had been back in Woodsboro. Alas, Scream 4 already stole that "Sid finally returns home" thunder, so it's not quite as impactful (I liken it to how much better Terminator: Dark Fate might have fared as the "return of Arnold" (post-Salvation) if not for the awful/earlier Genisys) as it could have been if not for a film that otherwise gave her so little to do. This film doesn't erase S4, but, kind of like how Die Hard with a Vengeance seems more naturally progressing from the first film as opposed to Die Harder, perhaps the reason they didn't want to call the film Scream 5 is because what it really feels like at times is that they wanted to be a truer followup to Scream 3 (there's another easter egg involving Sid that backs up this theory; if you're hazy on the 3rd one, I'd advise a rewatch or, at the very least, a reading of the cast list). And if that was indeed their intent, for my money they succeeded admirably. I'm tough to please with these things, and all I really wanted was for it to be better than the last two movies, even if only by a little, but instead I walked out as happy as I did with Scream 2 all those years ago. I had doubts, but they truly nailed it.

What say you?

P.S. I cried at the final dedication to Craven. If you've purchased Collins' Crypt: Remastered and read the new piece in the Wes-centric chapter, you know that I've been feeling guilty wanting to see this movie when my man wasn't behind the camera, so seeing that made me feel better. And yes, they bring the old-school font back after Scream 4 had a different, blockier one! Also, for those curious, "Red Right Hand" also makes a return, though it's used rather oddly, seemingly playing on a car stereo during a kill scene.

*Because I am writing a piece on Scream 3 this week, I've been diving deeper into it than I ever have and I am only just now realizing how much of it was seemingly inspired by H20, which made Dimension a lot of money the year before Scream 3 went into production. Scream 3 used the same location, the "our heroine is living in Northern California under a new name" plot device, AND had an opening scene where someone is killed to get her whereabouts. For good measure, both films also were edited by Patrick Lussier and featured Creed songs over the credits, not to mention had less Kevin Williamson involvement than was originally planned. I bet a double feature would even yield more similarities.

PLEASE, GO ON...

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