While many of its peers have been driven into the ground by increasingly lazy sequels, the Scream franchise has an unusually sturdy track record for a member of the horror genre. Only the third entry can be considered an outright failure due largely to its troubled production cycle, but even that botched effort has been re-examined by some fans in the post-#MeToo era. Co-creators Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson played no small part in maintaining this consistency, but it can also be argued that the concept behind these movies is built to last in a way that other slashers simply aren't.
What sets Scream apart is that it has never existed simply to depict the slaughter of photogenic young people, although admittedly that is one element of the formula. The beauty of having a different person behind the Ghostface mask each time around is that it also allows for a fresh 'whodunnit' mystery in every film, whereas the likes of Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street are confined to their recurring foes. But most ingenious of all is how this series has always kept its red right hand on the throat of the movie business, with a distinctive sense of humour that pokes fun at genre tropes and studio habits.
Of course, the most prevalent trend in Hollywood at the moment is one that this latest Scream is very much part of, that being what this movie terms as a 'requel'; a film that continues the story of a dormant franchise while also rebooting it for a new generation. Rest assured that screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick are well aware of the irony, crafting a story that deftly utilises and analyses the template adopted by the likes of Jurassic World and The Force Awakens, whilst finding time for clever, cathartic commentary on the exhausting state of fan culture.
We're back in Woodsboro for Scream (2022), where local residents are once again being stalked by a cloaked figure whose identity is concealed by the haunting Ghostface mask. This time, sisters Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) find themselves targeted by the killer for reasons unknown, faced with the terrifying thought that their assailant could be one of their closest friends. They turn to those most experienced with this macabre modus operandi for guidance on how to avoid a grisly fate.
Without a doubt, this is the strongest ensemble that Scream has seen since the first film, consisting of characters that largely leave a lasting impression rather than feeling like mere cannon fodder. In The Heights star Barrera feels a little flat at times, but is bolstered by two rock solid screen partners in Ortega (Jane The Virgin) and Jack Quaid (The Boys), who portray her younger sister and love interest respectively. In addition, Mason Gooding channels the same charisma that made him a hit on Love, Victor, while Jasmin Savoy Brown (The Leftovers) and Mikey Madison (Better Things) are likely to be the film's breakout stars.
But while this is the first Scream cast to hold a candle to the original members, no doubt many movie-goers will be flocking to multiplexes solely to see Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette back in their iconic roles. I'm relieved to say you won't be disappointed. While the characters of Sidney, Gale and Dewey are used somewhat sparingly, the payoff to their involvement is immensely satisfying. Were this to serve as their farewell appearances, fans could rest easy knowing they went out on a high note.
Indeed, it once seemed unthinkable that Scream could exist without its core trio or legendary filmmaker Wes Craven, but directing duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett make a compelling case to the contrary. In collaboration with the screenwriting team, they find exciting new ways to play with the rules this franchise first laid out a quarter-century ago, teasing the audience with visual trickery that goes far beyond a standard jump-scare. They also perfectly capture the chaotic and messy nature of a Ghostface encounter, culminating in a final act that had me watching with bated breath.
It's clear that the creatives charged with bringing back Scream have a deep respect for the series, but they have wisely not let that manifest as a glut of unfettered nostalgia. Instead, the familiar locations and characters are used to tell a story that feels completely original and keeps viewers guessing until the bitter end, sowing seeds of doubt and mistrust arguably better than any other entry to date. Above all, the film stays true to Craven and Williamson's vision, holding both Hollywood and toxic fans to account with its razor-sharp cynical wit – suffice to say, it's sorely needed.