Scream (2022)

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The best reason to watch Scream, the fifth in the meta-horror franchise, is to see the gravitas that has gathered in the acting styles of Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette. All of them were in their twenties or early thirties when the first Scream hit big in 1996, and they have endured through each sequel since, though there hadn’t been one in eleven years before the new one. The addition of wrinkles and wisdom has done interesting things to the characters. Campbell, as perennial survivor Sidney Prescott, has a certain hard-won grace in the face of horror. Cox’s intrepid reporter Gale Weathers has become much less of a satire of tabloid journalism and more of a real, abashed person (her book about the original Scream case has led to movies and assorted mayhem). And Arquette imbues the once-goofy Deputy Dewey with a survivor’s sardonic bitterness.

Actually, the best reason may also be the only reason. This Scream starts the slasher ball rolling in Woodsboro once again, with the cloaked, Munch-faced killer Ghostface turning up and doing damage. There are, as usual, a cast of suspects, including Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), daughter of the original film’s co-killer Billy Loomis. (A de-aged Skeet Ulrich appears as Billy in Sam’s febrile daydreams.) Back in Scream 3, which is where the series pretty well began its descent, the plotting reminded me of nothing so much as Murder, She Wrote by way of the CW. Which is valid, I guess, because a lot of the early slasher flicks (including the very first Friday the 13th) might as well have been dusty murder mysteries retooled for the ‘80s slasher craze. Still, the plottier and whodunit-er these things get, the further away they break from true fear. 

And that’s part of the problem with the new Scream. My theory is that if your brain is engaged in who could be the killer, it becomes an exercise, and whenever a character is killed you just say “Well, they can’t be the killer.” However, the right director can bring a humanity to the proceedings that makes us care, and that’s what the late Wes Craven did in the first two films, anyway. Craven was able to stage horrific violence and sadism, but in person he was unanimously said to be a kindly professor type, and so we felt the pain and fear in Craven’s violence because he felt it too. If you don’t care about the human beings getting slaughtered, it’s just special effects to be viewed neutrally. Some of the brutality in Craven’s best Scream entries was exceptionally gory and nasty, but it hit all the harder because, say, Drew Barrymore was allowed to establish an instant rapport with the audience (and her character’s fate was legitimately shocking at the time). We cared. Here, the gore is even nastier — I continue to be surprised, not necessarily in a bad way, by how much splatter the MPAA lets movies get away with nowadays — but we don’t care. At this point, it’s just “Cut back to more Neve Campbell, or hurry up and get to the killer reveal.”

In 1996, I was already more than a little old for the impact Scream had on teenagers at the time. I took it as a terrific homage; teenagers took it on a different, more direct level. The metafictional aspect of it was like a big welcome sign to the millennial audience, but the grisly kick of the horror sealed the deal. The first two Screams (they really should have stopped there, but they couldn’t, and they won’t — a sixth Scream is already pencilled in for next year) occupy a very specific part of late-‘90s American pop-cultural real estate, when Gen-X was starting to get the keys to Hollywood in a second wave after the class of ’94. Original scripter Kevin Williamson is an early Gen-Xer, and Gen-X irony is all over Scream and Scream 2. The tone of the new Scream is like a faded photocopy of that irony. This time the concepts of “legacy sequels” and “elevated horror” are roasted, in the era of the Halloween reboot and the rise of the indie studio A24. But I think it’s safe to say that when a series reaches its fifth go-round, it can no longer afford to be snarky about tropes that make money. Its cultural critiques are no longer well-taken, and this corporate concern stopped being a goof on endless slasher clichés and started simply putting them to work quite a long time ago.

Explore posts in the same categories: horror, sequel

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