DIRECTED BY MATT BETTINELLI-OLPIN AND TYLER GILLETT/2022
Ghostface Returns for Another Stab at Wes Craven’s Beloved Horror Series
Scream (1996) was a brilliant jolt to the horror world that was so much needed at the time. The ‘90s were a pretty dreadful period for the genre. What happens in Scream is great, with Sydney dealing with trauma and Billy and Stu being the double killers. But it was how it happened that mattered. Putting in the meta referential nods helped connect the film to the love of the past while embracing the ‘90s Tarantino/Nirvana cleverness, and wearing its influences on its sleeve, which was popular at the time.
What Scream did was so unique and brazen, we desperately wanted another film to capture it. Luckily one did. It’s called Scream 2, whose brilliant cold open with Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett analyzed the treatment and representation of black characters in the genre. It felt like it lead the path to what eventually became Jordan Peele and Nia Dacosta (this isn’t to say that two white men, Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson, thought of this before the African-American community was aware, but it still seemed like a knock to the stereotypes at a time black filmmakers weren’t so welcomed). Then in Scream 3, it felt like a precursor to metoo issues – a film ironically produced by Harvey Weinstein. But, I guess if anyone know about harassment and rape, its people working under Weinstein. And then Scream 4 analyzed the Instagram/influencer culture so intensely that it still would feel advanced if made today.
All that just leads to a simple point that Scream is one of the freshest, smartest franchises today that continues to be ahead of its time. Everything great about the first one has been carried on. Even as most viewers think the original is the best (at least in my horror loving bubble), it very much isn’t a case such as the Saw franchise, where the sequels drop off hard and fast.
Which is why I found it so befuddling that Scream (2022) came in with assumptions that the franchise needed a reset and needed to tie back into the first and that the sequels are all “inferior”- a direct quote from characters talking about the thinly-veiled Stab sequels. Progressiveness was always at the forefront of this property, not a need to Make Scream Great Again, and take the franchise and give it the same treatment as sputtering franchises that need these rebootquels. This feels like it was made by the kind of movie watcher who always says without much thought that “the first is always the best” and “the book is always better”, when that is not always the case.
This movie assumes the fanbase desperately cares about what happened in the first, as opposed to how it happened. And yet, as it goes along, it feels nothing like a Scream movie. It doesn’t feel like the sunny jigsaw puzzle of gore that Craven delivered. Instead, it feels like a dark and dreary melodrama with underdeveloped characters talking about the meta elements of horror, but only in sort of way that replicates the original. In Craven’s entries, each character being killed was a cross-off on your list of who the killer might be. It’s like a game being played with the viewer. In this one, the victims are so underdeveloped that as the film attempts to broaden its scope with too many characters (both new and old), they don’t register. When they’re being killed, I shrugged and barely even remembered some of them. Up to then, I never once thought that this movie would attempt to claim that any of them were Ghostface. Also, this film cannot pull off- and barely attempts- the red herrings Craven did so well.
And I’m not necessarily knocking a sequel for developing its own voice and direction; but when it directly harkens back to the first so much, it begs for the comparison to which it can’t live up to.
(Minor spoilers for something you learn in the first act, but if you want to go in completely cold, stop reading…) After a cold open that’s clever enough, but doesn’t really compare to the others, it brings characters back to Woodsboro, both new and old. Through a convenient exposition dump in one scene, we learn one character, Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) is the daughter of Billy Loomis. See how clever it is! Her name is Sam, as her birth name should be Sam Loomis. The character from Halloween, which was directed by, well you know who…
Okay, at this point in the film, with the introduction of Sam Carpenter, I kept thinking about how much I love Billy in the original and how important the first Scream is to me. Yet I never screamed to have him or his bloodline back. What’s great about Scream his how he was used- and not just him. And as the film goes on and we learn more characters are the descendants of the original slew of characters, I wondered, who was asking for all of this? I remember in conversations about Scream when it came out, it was always about Craven, Williamson and the new direction of horror. Not Billy and what it would be like if we could see him again!
I may just be up to my wits’ end with films continuously getting stuck in these ruts of nostalgia, but between this, Ghostbusters and Spider-Man, I’m getting tired of references being mistaken for quality. So many recent films have turned into an episode of Married with Children when the neighbors came over and would walk into the applause of recognition from the studio audience. And, as a die-hard Scream fan, you’d think I’m the target audience for this- yet it just made it all feel even more unnecessary. This feels like the first film in the franchise feeding us what we think we need now and not growing into a film ahead of its time.
I don’t think this movie means any harm or malice and do hope it finds its fanbase. As opposed to the new Ghostbusters or that final dreadful Star Wars movie, which felt like backwards filmmaking to shake off the “wokeness” of the previous entries, this feels like a movie that wants to please people and do no harm. Yet when the film directly winks to The Last Jedi (by saying the director of Knives Out did Stab 8, which upsets fans), that introduces the theme of toxic fandom into the meta conversation this film has. The film makes it clear that this kind of fandom is indeed unambiguously toxic, yet this nostalgic throwback attempting to ignore the sequels feels like a product of the same mindset as that form of toxicity. It made me wonder if Scream was as guilty of the themes it so harshly critiques.