The best thing about the new Scream is that it knows everything.
It knows you’re skeptical it’s the fifth film in a franchise. It knows you’re wondering why the title isn’t just “Scream 5” to keep with the continuity. It knows that thanks to streaming/the internet/films like the first Scream, audiences in 2022 are much savvier about movies than they were in 1996. And, most crucially, it knows that after 11 years away (Scream 4 was released in 2011), and another 11 before that (Scream 3 was released in 2000), Scream might not be the big screen powerhouse it once was and it better do something fresh to keep itself relevant. Whether or not it’s successful in that last point is certainly up for debate but we’re happy to report it delivers on being surprising and clever for all of the above and more. Add in plenty of devilish mystery and lots of gruesome horrors, and the fifth Scream is a worthy addition to the popular franchise.
The Scream franchise was created by original writer Kevin Williamson who is back this time as an executive producer. Unfortunately, his partner in crime, legendary director Wes Craven (who directed all four previous movies), passed away in 2015. Stepping into Craven’s unfillable shoes are Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, two-thirds of a filmmaking group called Radio Silence. They’re best known for the 2019 film Ready or Not, one of those self-aware films with Scream in every pore of its DNA, making the pair a good fit. The script was written by James Vanderbilt (Zodiac) and Guy Busick (Ready or Not), meaning that Scream is basically a film by a group of Scream fans movie with one key member from the past in Williamson. It’s a ratio and ideology that carries onto the screen too.
While it’s no secret that Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette reprise their roles as Sidney, Gale, and Dewey respectively, they probably only make up about 20% of the plot. The main plot revolves around Sam (In the Heights’ Melissa Barrera), a young woman who moved out of the infamous town of Woodsboro after high school for mysterious reasons. She and her boyfriend Richie (The Boys’ Jack Quaid) come back though when Sam’s sister Tara (Jane the Virgin’s Jenna Ortega) and her friends (played by the likes of Dylan Minnette of 13 Reasons Why, Jasmin Savoy Brown of Yellowjackets, Mason Gooding of Booksmart, and Mikey Madison of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) begin to get terrorized by Ghostface.
Even right there you see how this Scream ups the ante from the previous ones. The cast is delightfully diverse, which gives 2022 Woodsboro a more modern, realistic, relatable feel. This is not the same place Billy and Stu terrorized in the first movie and, as a result, Ghostface can, and will, appear in places we aren’t used to Ghostface showing up. The directors use that uncertainty to great effect too, putting scares where we aren’t expecting them, and fake-outs where we are. Other times, that flips. The whole movie has a necessary, welcome, uneasy feeling like the rules have changed this time around. Of course, they really haven’t. Ghostface is still going to show up and brutally murder people, but even so, the film has a groundedness that links it closer to the original rather than the sequels. Not to mention the deaths are disgustingly and increasingly brutal, in that fun horror-movie way.
Like all the previous installments, most of Scream is about figuring out who Ghostface is and why they’re killing all of these people. At different points throughout the movie, you will swear you’ve got it figured out, only to totally change that opinion a scene later. In fact, watching the film, I was so sure I had it figured out I wrote a name and explanation in my notes just so I could be like “Ha! Got it!” to all my friends. Turns out, I was very, very wrong.
However, here’s the way this Scream really distinguishes itself from the rest. In this film, I’d argue the murderous motives are more interesting and spoilery than the killer’s identity. Seriously. I could (but I won’t!) tell you who the killer/killers is/are and you’d certainly be surprised but if I told you why he/she/they were doing it, you’d be even more surprised and shocked. It’s all wrapped up in the way this Scream pays homage to the past of the franchise while also being a movie that feels deeply relatable in 2022. Don’t worry, it’s not political or anything, but you might argue about it like it was politics when you get out of the theater. That potential divisiveness and willingness to engage the audience in such frank, direct ways is, I think, is the film’s biggest gift. However, it will certainly end up being its biggest detractor too. Some people are going to be really pissed off, which is exactly the point.
Along the way, the new cast really feels at home in the confines of a Scream movie. Barrera’s Sam is capable and confident while giving zero fucks about almost anything. Savoy Brown and Gooding play unique, funny twins who are at each others’ throats but always have that special sibling love below the surface. Quaid is perfect as the always suspicious boyfriend and Minnette is sympathetic while also being sweet. Everyone is great, right down the line.
That goes for the original cast too. While they don’t have as much to do this time around, Campbell, Cox, and Arquette elevate the movie every time they’re on screen. Part of that is how the script advances the characters not just since Scream 4, but going all the way back to the original, and part of it is just an intangible level of comfort. Campbell and Cox are 10 years more badass this time around, coming into the movie and just showering it with expertise and class. But it’s Arquette in particular, who has to play a much more complex Dewey here, that ultimately steals the show.
Scream is a worthy, creepy, gory addition to the franchise. It plays with your expectations in a way that keeps you guessing from start to finish and gets into pockets of pop culture you are almost certainly not expecting but make perfect sense. You may love it, you may hate, it, but if you’re a fan of the series, you’re likely to appreciate it as you laugh and cheer all the way through.
io9 saw Scream at a low-capacity press screening in a movie theater, with vaccinations required and health forms filled out prior. We realize not everyone will have that option and urge you to be as safe as possible if you choose to go to the theater. Scream opens in theaters only Friday but will be available on Paramount+ 45 days after.
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