Scream has to be one of the most misunderstood horror franchises of all time. These films started as an ironic deconstruction of the slasher genre; the characters in the movie actively talk about cliches and tropes endemic to the genre, and in the original 1996 Scream, the killer is someone who’s clearly au fait with horror and knows its tricks. Still, there are many who think of Scream as the same mindless slasher fare that it’s trying to parody, which is a shame.
After the original Scream was released, two sequels followed. Scream 2 was a parody of horror sequels and was almost as successful as the original, while Scream 3 demonstrated that the franchise was suffering from seriously diminishing returns. 2011 brought Scream 4, which jump-started the series to some degree, and now we have a fifth movie, simply titled Scream. Is this movie worth your time, or should we consign it to the same dustbin as Scream 3?
Scream 2022 begins with the return of Ghostface (for it was inevitable). It revolves around a new cast of characters, who may or may not have a connection with the original movie’s hapless bunch of teenage survivors. As with previous Scream movies, what follows is a sort of combination of horror played straight and deconstructionist satire, with grisly murders interspersed with commentary about how horror is supposed to play out or what tropes are being invoked.
This time around, however, the satire focuses largely on the modern landscape of horror, which you might expect given the strengths of the franchise. The characters are big fans of a movie franchise called Stab (see what they did there?), and there are discussions around whether Stab is going in the right direction or whether it’s going off the rails. It doesn’t really feel like anyone was discussing Scream in the same breath, so the satire does fall slightly flat in that regard, but it’s still fun.
That discussion around Stab does lead to a more interesting, fruitful one surrounding the concept of “elevated horror”. If you haven’t heard this term, it’s essentially a way for snooty horror fans to attempt to appear more intelligent than they are. It’s a distinction to draw between movies like The Babadook, which relies more on atmosphere and tension than jump scares and gore (and which is invoked in Scream 2022), and old-school slashers like Halloween or Friday the 13th.
Now, the discussion of elevated horror vs. regular horror isn’t really one we need to worry about; after all, even the so-called “tired tropes” of old slasher movies had a point to make during their creative heyday in the 1980s. What’s important is whether Scream 2022 gets this right or not. Honestly, it’s hard to say. On the one hand, the movie does make some important points about the ways in which horror has become rarefied, but it doesn’t ever really do anything with those points on a narrative level.
In a nutshell, this is Scream 2022’s problem; it comments without taking a stand. It’s a slightly cowardly move on the part of the movie’s creators to say “hey, look, we’re creating a ‘requel’ (a sort of reboot-slash-sequel), isn’t that funny” and then essentially filling in all the prerequisite narrative beats in order to make Scream 2022 a fairly by-the-numbers requel. It thinks that simply pointing out what it’s done will make you think it’s clever, even though it doesn’t really have many intelligent or original ideas in its head.
That’s not to say there are no pleasures at all to be had in Scream 2022. While it’s nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is, the gore and visceral horror elements work well, as they always have in this franchise. Character deaths land with a splattery, satisfying crunch, and although the effects can occasionally be a little over-the-top, they do a good job in paying off the adequate tension the movie builds up. If you’re in this for the murderin’, then you’ll get a good experience here.
That’s perhaps the most ironic thing about Scream 2022; it works best when it’s playing it straight, delivering a standard slasher-style horror experience without trying to be too clever-clever. The original Scream was a paradigm shift, but it never really resulted in a wave of movies using its brand of smart, knowing, and satirical horror. 2012’s Cabin in the Woods evoked the spirit of Scream successfully, but for every Cabin, there is a Scary Movie, and that’s Scream’s legacy, unfortunately.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Scream 2022 is that it’s a little too pleased with itself. In 2022, it is not enough simply to say “look, we understand horror tropes and so do our characters”. Wes Craven’s 1996 original already explored that idea and took it as far as it could go, after all. Perhaps this is an issue with sequels to horror satires in general; they can’t just make the same point, but updating the humour without updating the theming as well just comes across as hollow and tired.
If you’re looking for a solid, straightforward horror movie with a few knowing nods and winks to the genre (albeit slightly insufferable ones at times), Scream 2022 will deliver. However, if you want something that’s as genuinely clever and subversive as Craven’s 1996 original, then you’ll have to keep waiting. Revisit Cabin in the Woods, watch the original Scream again, or just check out some of the “elevated horror” movies that are part of the discussion around this film. They’ll all likely result in more satisfying experiences than Scream 2022.