Scream: Smarter Than Your Average Sequel


Throughout the 70s and 80s, cheap exploitation films ruled the box office. Sleazy studio execs created various faceless killers to draw in audiences, promising nothing more than salacious nudity and gratuitous violence. Amongst a sea of interchangeable low budget schlock, director Wes Craven’s Scream managed to change everything with five simple words: 

“What’s your favorite scary movie?”

And a classic was born. Writer Kevin Williamson reconstructed the framework of an exploitation film as a post-modern “whodunnit,” creating characters who utilized their awareness of horror movie tropes to survive the killer’s wrath. When paired with Wes Craven’s mastery of suspense, Williamson’s screenplay laid the groundwork for a film that worked as both straight horror and a satirical parody.  

Scream’s smashed success paved the way for a slew of sequels, yet the franchise seems antiquated given the lack of modern exploitation films. In place of mindless slasher movies we have “elevated horror” like Get Out (Jordan Peele) or Hereditary (Ari Aster)— genre films that are as thought provoking as they are terrifying. Nowadays, a new Scream movie seems pointless; it’s meta-satire feels toothless in the face of such artistically challenging horor, especially without Wes Craven’s gifted hands behind the camera. However, in perhaps the biggest surprise in the franchise’s history, Scream (2022) proves to be a thoughtfully entertaining, if imperfect, sequel to Craven’s original near-masterpiece. 

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, Scream (2022) takes place 25 years after the original film, set in the same location with a different cast of characters. A new killer has taken up the Ghostface mantal and has their sights set on a new friend group within Woodsboro, all of whom have some connection to the cast of the original. When this sadistic killer attacks her sister, Sam Carpenter reaches out to the surviving characters from the franchise, Sidney Prescott, Gale Weathers, and Dewey Riley. 

On paper, Guy Busick and James Vanderbilt’s screenplay sounds painfully derivative of Scream (1996). This new film’s story mirrors the Williamson’s script very closely, and while that sounds like a massive determinant, the writers of Scream (2022) make it work. Viewing the bloodstained past of Woodsboro as the basis of a slasher franchise, this new Ghostface desires to make their very own Scream “rebootquel.” In their attempts to recreate the original killings with a new cast of characters, Ghostface reveals the dark side of intertextual entertainment.  

The satirical nature of these derivative killings provide unexpectedly dark commentary on the nature of studio storytelling. Through their attempt to “reboot” Scream, this Ghostface is tainting the original’s legacy, taking characters they claim to respect and putting them through unimaginable torment. That satire still cuts like a knife in the face of so many cynical Hollywood retreads. We as audience members have claimed to adore these fictional characters yet we happily demand they suffer for the sake of safe pseudo-remake, turning away thematically challenging films in favor of a “back-to-basics” genre movie. 

Despite the screenplay’s shocking intelligence, it’s execution can be clunky at times. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are talented filmmakers, but they lack Craven’s masterful pacing. As a result, some of Scream (2022)’s opening setpieces simply feel like slower retreads of the first film, even within the satirical context of the writing. Thankfully, the directing duo have a gift for creative brutality, resulting in some bloody kills that help make up for the occasional creative lull. That being said, a Scream movie needs more than violence, for these murder mysterys would fall apart without a memorable cast of characters   

It’s tough to compare to the pitch perfect ensemble of Scream (1996), yet this new cast have proven to be surprisingly likable substitutes. Scream (2022)’s characters are far more cynical than their 90s counterpoints, having grown up with numerous stories based upon the whodunnit murder mysteries of past films. In a sense, they have been raised by the Scream franchise. So while the original cast held each other in mild suspicion, these new characters are constantly theorizing on who amongst them is a homicidal maniac. With the wrong actors such argumentative banter could feel tedious, but the cast is charismatic enough to sell this dysfunctional dynamic. 

A clear labor of love to the original, Scream (2022) is a clever sequel that makes great use out of the franchise’s penchant for meta-commentary. Every decision on display feels like it was designed out of respect for Wes Craven and his legacy, insightfully satirizing the nature of studio reboots while being an effective horror film in it’s own right. Even if one doesn’t believe this newest Scream is a worthy sequel to the first film, the filmmakers certainly tried their hardest to make it one.