Slasher-killers come and go, but Ghostface is apparently forever. It’s been twenty-six whole damn years since the psychotic teenagers Billy Loomis and Stu Macher slipped on their store-bought Halloween shrouds topped by melted-wax Caspar crowns and went on their murder rampage in the quiet California town of Woodsboro. Twenty-six whole damn years and four whole damn movies later and here we are with this weekend’s latest entry, titled Scream all over again, right back in that town watching that tall handsome man in his dusty black coat with his red right hand make with his dirty killing business all over again. So I ask you why, like love and grief, does Ghostface persevere?
In the canon of the big Slasher franchises the Scream run is actually at this point on the lower end—there were also 26 years between the first and last Nightmare on Elm Street films (holla to Wes Craven’s other franchise of note) while Friday the 13th went for a 29-year stretch (and if that lawsuit gets sorted out I imagine we’ll get more of Jason Voorhees soon). And then of course there are the Halloween films, running for a full 44 years from John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece up through David Gordon Green’s forthcoming trilogy-crapper excuse-me-capper Halloween Ends, out this forthcoming October. But if you count the Bates Motel TV series as Psycho canon? Then the Norman Bates Saga ran for a whopping 57 years—he made his momma proud, that one.
Of course listing these Slasher Stats is exactly the sort of thing of thing that a character in the Scream franchise would do right before getting their throat slashed (and yes I looked over my shoulder as I typed that), but I have a reason for this particular statistical madness besides flashing some nerd cred. More than any of those other series of films the Scream films have never been about the killer(s). The Scream films have always been about Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), and Deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette). Other good folks have come and gone—let us pour another one out for Randy Meeks—but that trio of survivors has been our core, our reason for coming back to Woodsboro decade after decade, Laurie Metcalfs be damned.
The Halloween films needed to re-learn that lesson after some time spent in the wilderness sans JLC, but the Scream series never did. Wes Craven, who was an English professor with degrees in psychology and philosophy before he ever turned a movie camera on, always threaded his scripts through with legacies of guilt and grief, the repercussions of trauma, and that’s what the Scream films have always been focused on more than the boogeymen and boogeywomen under that pained-laugh of a mask. And that, I think more than any of the franchises, has made these films not just resilient but especially adaptable to our moment, where we’re at least trying to cast our eyes off of the perpetrators of violence and more toward the victims of it. The question I ask myself going into a new Scream film is never the game that their posters try to get me to play, the guessing of which fresh-faced C.W.-ite might be the one with the knife this time—the question I ask myself is where are my Sid, my Gale, my Dewey, and are they happy? Are they alright? And will they continue being that after ninety more minutes of this terrible mayhem?
The term “Legacy Characters” gets meta-tossed around a few times in 2022 Scream (which, in the wake of Craven’s passing in 2015, has been brought to the screen by the filmmakers behind the terrific Ready or Not, the ones who call themselves Radio Silence) but here, in Scream-land, that legacy really means something. These are legacies of pain and guilt, of betrayals and reunions and solidarity. Catching up with our OG trio and riding through yet another rollercoaster round of trauma beside them is what keeps us coming back, and what makes every singing sound of the knife moving through the air especially sting—the whodunit game of who’s under the mask, the Ghostface of it, comes and goes, but it’s dare-I-say the friends we’ve made along this very long way that matter. So how does Scream 2022 do by our old friends?
More than any of the previous movies Scream ‘22 doles them out sparingly. Too sparingly some will say, and some will be right about that. Branding itself a “re-quel”—a concept which gets entertainingly detailed by one of the new movie’s many in-movie movie-nerds, but which I think we all get enough for me to skip here—the new Scream spends the majority of its time with its new cast of characters, sprinkling in Dewey & Co. when it sees fit. I’m going to avoid spoilers as best as I can while writing about the film—hence how I’m six paragraphs into my review and just getting around to the plot—but I think it’s important knowing this going in lest you find their lack infuriating. There’s not a lot of story left for Sid, Gale, and Dewey. What small efforts it makes you can feel the script straining for fresh angles on these folks that we know by now through and through, which leads to for example a somewhat unconvincing spin on Dewey, whose goofball optimism has been entirely stomped out. He’s now a drunken shell of his former self, living in a sad trailer with his sister’s ashes, and I didn’t entirely buy this? Not because of Arquette’s performance, which is as ever endearing, but because it has a tinge of Laurie Strode’s unconvincing survivalist leanings in the new Halloweens—straining for an edge where it doesn’t actually work or belong. After what these people have been through together it just reads unlikely to me, the disarray Scream ‘22 discovers them in.
That said—and this is an admittedly big “that said” coming after a lot of saying—I really enjoyed the hell out of this new Scream anyway. Setting aside the legacy characters, this new batch of young-somethings are actually a smart and likable bunch? Led by Melissa Barrera as Sam, Jenna Ortega as her sister Tara, and Jack Quaid as her boyfriend Richie, there are all sorts of connections to the past that will get dug up and sorted through, both by blade and by the occasional exposition dump, but these kids on their own are funny, sweet, and pretty easy to root for. The filmmakers spend time with their relationships anyway, so once the truly brutal violence starts weaving its way through ol’ Woodsboro you find yourself genuinely caught up in the stakes. And did I mention the violence? Absolutely gnarly, some of it, with one particular knife going through a neck that I wish I could permanently un-see. A top notch effort on the effects front where I couldn’t tell if things were CG or practical, and spent full minutes half-glaring through fingers.
And when the time does come for the requisite unmasking I’ll cop to a loud cackle as the whys and wherefores were enthusiastically spelled out, all of which lead us into the past but poison it with a very of-the-moment angle I wish I’d seen coming but did not, and found delightful in its spin. Scream ‘22 manages against the odds to make the case for itself even as it sidelines if not our main trio physically—they are all there, in presence—than narratively, in that they just sort of exist alongside what this film is doing, along for the brutal ride, stabbing at things when need be. That it’s actually a killer time at the movies, with its own words on legacies and trauma despite all of that is, to me, a minor slasher miracle.
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Image sources (in order of posting): Paramount,