Reviewed by Tim Robins
WARNING – SCARY SPOILERS!
Scream is a hoot, even if it is the foreboding hoot of graveyard owls. I’m not a fan of the gloomy “Stalk & Slash” genre, and had to be dragged kicking and screaming to watch this latest iteration of the long-running franchise. But I’m glad I was, because the film is an altogether better revival than Candyman (2020) and Matrix: Resurrections (2020).
There’s nothing profound about Scream 2022, but It is an entertaining homage to the previous four movies. For all the praise lavished on the Matrix movie’s self-referentiality, the Scream franchise got there first. The new Scream keeps up this motif by poking fun at fifth-in-a-franchise failures and ‘elevated’ horror films, the latter of which Candyman 1996 and 2020 are good examples.
This new film is set twenty-five years after spooky-masked serial killers Billy Loomis and Stu Macher stalked the small town of Woodsboro. Now, ‘Ghost-face’ is back and Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega), a High Schooler, is ripe for the reaper. The attack brings her older sister, Sam (Melissa Barrera), and her new boyfriend back to Woodsboro.
Tara is reunited with her group of friends – Amber Freeman, twins Chad and Mindy Meeks-Martin, and Liv McKenzie. Along the way, Sam is supported by survivors from the previous films: reclusive, retired Dewey Riley (David Arquette), his ex-wife Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). Let the stab-fest begin!
I know that younger viewers found the earlier Wes Craven-directed Scream films genuinely frightening, and fans are well served in Scream 2022, until the point the plot turns all Play Misty for Me and trashes fandom in entirely conventional ways. There’s a smattering of jump scares and visual misdirection that are enough to keep you guessing, although I’ve watched so many of this type of film that one of the killers was, for me, immediately obvious.
Scream’s claim to fame was that it acknowledged this kind of over-familiarity. The young cast talk openly about the ‘rules’ of horror movies and used their knowledge to defeat the killers. Very clever, I guess. I’m not sure ‘rules’ really capture the nature of generic conventions. And the idea that the Scream series is ‘meta’ drastically foreshortens what there is to reflect on. It would have been more interesting if there were characters who could discuss such aspects as the films’ misogyny, and the conditions under which those in the movie industry have to work. In the end, we are still placed firmly in the series’ narrative universe. Fans of the in-movie horror film, Stab, are represented in a barely reflexive way.
The cast aren’t the only source of nostalgic fun. Call backs include musical repetitions (including Dewey’s theme) and familiar moments (Sam reaching for umbrellas to defend herself). The smartest part of the film is not its adherence to the rules of the genre, but in the way it sets up expectations based on the previous Scream movies and then gives them enough of a twist to be fun and new. And this new Scream is rated 18, so we aren’t spared the blood.
A great deal of the ‘fun’ in the movie is setting up expectations, marginally twisting them, then fulfilling them completely. Even before the Scream movies, academic Philip Brophy has identified self-referentiality as a characteristic of the horror genre which he named “horrality”.
“The contemporary Horror film knows that you’ve seen it before,” he notes. “It knows that you know what is about to happen; and it knows that you know it knows you know. And none of it means a thing, as the cheapest trick in the book will still tense your muscles, quicken your heart and jangle your nerves”.
You’ll easily guess one of the killers. I was only thrown off because I didn’t know that there are always two killers in the Scream films, and because none of the killers show any sign of the injuries they must have incurred while going about their bloody work. I remembered very little of Screams 1-4, so I missed a lot of the references to those, that will certainly be fun for fans.
Brophy also pointed to the role of humour as another characteristic of “horrality”, arguing “it is humour that remains one of the major features of the contemporary Horror film, especially if used as an undercutting agent to counter-balance its more horrific moments. The humour is not usually well-crafted but mostly perverse and/or tasteless, so much so that often the humour might be horrific while the horror might be humorous”. Unfortunately the cinema where I saw the new movie was too empty to elicit many screams or laughs.
Then again, I don’t find “stalk and slash” movies funny, nor particularly scary. No amount of ‘final girls’ make up for the fact a lot of the “entertainment” is based around terrorising young people and, particularly, young girls. A scene in which a wheel chair bound victim is stalked around a hospital epitomises the serious downside to such movies. And the slight subversion of the shower scene from Psycho is all right, except for the fact the outcome is still unpleasant and is no less sad.
Perhaps horror is a young person’s game. Death, although ever present, can feel a long way off when you’re 18. But no amount of “horrality” will delay that destiny. In this the horror can be a greater subversion of religiosity than science fiction. Has any religion professed that we should laugh our way to the grave? Ask not for whom the owl hoots, it hoots for thee.
• Scream is in cinemas now across the UK | Official Site: www.screammovie.com