When the first Scream released in 1996, the film was instantly iconic among horror fans for its ability to deftly tread the line between homage and parody as it spoke to the rise of slashers. The Scream franchise henceforth has been the final word in speaking the language of the genre, resting on a foundation of legitimately effective horror and inside nods to the most devoted and bloodthirsty fans. The original 1996 film leaves behind some very large boots for 2022’s SCREAM to step into and I’m happy to report that SCREAM strides comfortably on the path set by its iconic predecessor.
SCREAM takes place twenty-five years after the original streak of brutal Ghostface killings. Those horrific events have been immortalized in the “Stab” horror franchise, a new killer has donned the mask, and the cycle of death has begun again. A group of teenagers, all connected to Woodsboro’s deadly past, are the targets of Ghostface’s fury and time is running out to uncover long-buried secrets, unmask Ghostface, and put an end to the horror.
SCREAM is helmed by directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet. Franchise stars Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette return to their iconic roles alongside Woodsboro newcomers Melissa Barrera, Kyle Gallner, Mason Gooding, Dylan Minette, and Jenna Ortega.
Fittingly, SCREAM finds a natural ease in homage and genre commentary. The film is packed with nods to the beloved 1996 original with an abundance of Easter eggs, recreated shots, and playful, ribbing rehashes of iconic scenes and character moments. It’s a perfect dose of nostalgia for long-time fans, without being so self-congratulatory that it alienates the more casual viewer.
Like its predecessor, SCREAM lands several snide (but loving) jabs at the journey that horror films have been on over the past several decades. Films like The Babadook and Hereditary – really the very notion of “elevated horror” – are the butt of the joke as Ghostface attempts to connect his slasher inclinations to a modern audience that seems to have outgrown the pulpy elements of fear. These moments were laugh-out-loud hilarious to the horror fans in the room and speak volumes to SCREAM’s biting wit. The jokes cut just as deep as Ghostface’s blade, in a perfect modern answer to the original film’s tone. Well done.
As a horror, SCREAM dares to be more brutal, more bloody, and more deranged. The kill scenes find a happy medium between intricate recreations of previous hits from the franchise and new murders ratcheted up as high as audiences can take it. From non-discriminate “hack n’ slash” sequences to the heart-stopping brutality committed against beloved characters, SCREAM delivers on its stabby promises.
SCREAM is extremely self-aware and understands its audience, its genre, and its legacy. This awareness is a double-edged knife that both makes the film and sometimes slashes to its detriment. SCREAM is well aware that fans of the original film have watched the 1996 Scream time and time again. The film knows that its audience is horror-literate and looking for any sign of an upcoming scare. SCREAM… quite frankly… brings its audience into the joke by introducing visuals and elements designed to throw off the most advanced horror viewer.
From the earliest scenes in the film, viewers will notice long black coats or aprons (often with a flash of a white scarf or other accessory) lingering out of focus in the background. Every time your heart stops as you squint at the background and search for signs of Ghostface. In other scenes a character will enter a classic jumpscare setup, the audience will begin to tense up (or chuckle), and… nothing. This is the crux of SCREAM’s attention to detail and a prime example of how the film winks at its fans. Small choices perfectly executed, that take SCREAM to the next level. These are the moments where SCREAM is at its peak performance.
With the sweet comes the sour, as always. As mentioned previously, SCREAM puts in the work to connect fans of the original to this new generation of Ghostface and survivors. For much of the film, the line between homage and fan fiction is clear and abided by but where it blurs there are problems. Sometimes, SCREAM’s constant looking back falls to the way of corny and it feels like these new characters are struggling to escape from the shadow of their predecessors. Add to that a ham-fisted meditation on toxic fandom culture and the dark side of the horror community, and the fun comes dangerously close to being derailed. Close, but not quite.
In 1996, Scream took a decade of slasher films, packaged them for the seasoned viewer, and carried off the ultimate love letter to scary movies. 2022’s SCREAM applies that same formula, affection, and attention to detail to the notion of the horror franchise and hands off its own love letter to a generation of fans that has watched horror change but still remember its roots. On this essential point, SCREAM is a triumph.
SCREAM is exactly the film that lovers of the slasher have been waiting for. Blood-soaked and brilliant, it speaks the language of the viewers that love it most. A worthy successor in a long line of horror royalty.
SCREAM stalks into theaters on January 14, 2022, from Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group.
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