We need to talk about the Scream sequels. Fundamentally, they don’t work. Though two and four are fun enough films that have some independent thrills, direct continuation of Scream is a fool’s endeavour. Apart from being just a kickass slasher, Scream works because it was new and because it was deconstructive. Sequels, direct sequels that is (as opposed to anthologised chapters), are inherently both constructive and not new. This is one of many reasons why the new Scream does not work at all. But, to be fair, it also fails on its own terms.
The lineage of Scream, its reputation, has been that it was ‘meta’. It was a horror pastiche inside a legitimate horror, a post-modern thrill built out of the same genre it was tearing down. And, while Scream is this, it was never only this. This was one part of Scream, a film that is great for a whole host of reasons in addition to its genre commentary. It is a film that is both scary and funny, with actual tension and real laughs. The laughs aren’t all horror references, a lot of it is from great writing and clever gags. Scream (2022) is not scary, at all (it’s barely even tense), and it’s not funny. What it does, like many of the other sequels (but to a greater extent) is it takes the one character from Scream obsessed with the rules and construction of horror films, and writes every character in their voice. One element becomes the only element and this element isn’t even justified.
Because, while Scream was a brilliantly meta text, it was that out of need. Scream hit at one of the lowest points for the slasher genre and was the way (inspired by Craven’s previous film, New Nightmare) to revitalise the genre while reflecting on it. It is a brilliant act of moving forwards by looking backwards, a feat that hasn’t been achieved since and one that this new Scream completely evades. This new film is not a piece of wider commentary, though it tries, it is instead this odd commentary on what has become ‘the Scream formula’ (an issue that plagued the 3rd and 4th films). While a character talking about the rules of horror in the first Scream was so fresh, any reference to the rules now is just obeying a franchise convention as opposed to breaking a genre one. And now it is every character, all of the time. Rather than having a clever conceit where a horror fan as a character in a horror film is able to complicate things by predicting events based on their knowledge, it is every character repeatedly saying what has to happen because ‘rules’. With the new Scream, rather than being delightfully unpredictable, the film is now so expected. All we are left with is a film full of tropes that then comments on those tropes. It is an exercise in insularity, a self satisfied ‘horror’ film that thinks it is clever because it points out its own familiarity.
A wider annoyance is how tacked on the genre commentary feels here. This is, after all, a reboot and a sequel, one of many. It’s the new trend. Rather than bucking this trend, or subverting expectations, Scream (2022) does everything all of these other films do but then notes it is a cliché. A crime the original Scream was not guilty of. Scream was not a pedestrian slasher elevated by self-awareness, it was a superlative slasher made better still by a cheeky cine-literacy. Beyond this, the new Scream’s points don’t really make sense. It wants to tackle toxic fan culture but its approach to this is woefully misguided. One, this feels like the wrong franchise for this and, two, it feels deeply unearned. The film makes overt references to the reaction to The Last Jedi, then (in fiction) reframes this as about a Stab movie (the films in the Scream franchise based on the events of Scream. A clever move in the second film, an annoyance now). First of all, this just feels already outdated. The discourse has moved on and is very tiresome, we are now in the age of: shut up about The Last Jedi. Talking about how ‘the director of Knives Out’ made a Stab movie that didn’t respect the source material and betrayed the fans (even if this is framed as a knowing gag) feels not only stupid but dated. It’s also so blatant, a continual fault of the film where characters spout lengthy and leaden exposition. There is a difference between being about something and just mentioning things: Scream (2022) merely mentions things and thinks it’s clever for doing so.
In addition to the failed genre commentary, we just have an unappealing film. At one point, a returning character states that they’ve ‘seen this movie before’. They are told, as a retort, that they haven’t seen one ‘like this’… Which is a lie. You have seen this film before, and it was better. This new film is the most boring approach to a new Scream film you could think of. Its only idea is Scream, but again. Then it jokes about how these new horror reboots and sequels are uninspired. There is room for creativity, for a more intelligent reflection and something more in line with that Scream was. As the film progresses, every choice it makes is something that you can instantly think of a better way it could be done. We build to an almost satisfying climax, satisfying only because things start going wrong a little bit (rather than being so pointlessly rigid), but the film refuses to exist in this mode (a moment of slight subversion). The eventual finale is crushingly stupid, but mostly just very pedestrian. This is on par with the rest of the film, though. Nothing is handled with any energy or interest. The script is a dud, with promising new characters not allowed to be that interesting and the returning cast feeling so forced. There is a bizarre tonal oscillation also, where it is a sincere slasher with bloody kills that then becomes a bunch of teens joking about how the murder (or attempted murder) of their friend fits into horror movie tropes. Again, the film being only ever an act of imitation means that nothing feels organic.
It is so sad that Scream is this now. The franchise that should never have been a franchise is now the butt of its own joke. This is such an uninspired nothing of a film, with a handful of well handled moments that slightly elevate it (but all of these things are just imitations of what the original film already mastered). You’ve seen this film before. You saw it with Scream and you saw it with every recent instalment in a variety of slasher (and wider) franchises. The film commenting on this only makes it worse.