Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️
In an age of sequels, prequels, franchises, and alternate universes, Scream (2022) proposes something new: the “Re-quel.” How do I know this? Because, in an obnoxiously self-aware fashion, the film’s characters told me so—again and again and again. Indeed, Scream attempts to do for the modern horror film what Deadpool did for the superhero genre, with far less success. For all its pretensions of postmodern cleverness, this half-reboot/half-sequel ends up a postmodern mess, lost in a vortex of its own stupid jokes and empty characters.
Frustratingly, Scream begins with promise. Echoing the original Scream (1996), Ghostface calls high-school student Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega), threatening to kill her friend unless she can correctly answer horror movie trivia. Tara, an avowed fan of “elevated horror” films like Hereditary and The Witch, struggles to answer Ghostface’s questions about the in-universe Stab franchise—a slasher series meant to self-reflexively reference Scream. Ghostface’s subsequent attack on Tara’s home works as a sly retribution against new-age horror fans, reminding us that “elevated” means little more than “pretentious.”
Scream then becomes a quiet moan. A new killer dons the Ghostface mask to terrorize Woodsboro. The group of new high-school protagonists, led by In the Heights’ Melissa Barrera, quickly realize that Ghostface is one of their own, and try to deduce who it could be. Series regulars Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and David Arquette return for little other reason than to establish the film’s “re-quel” status: while the new teenage cast provide the components of a reboot, the returning stars exist to pass them the torch. Think Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), with disinterested actors.
Instead of actual scares, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (known collectively as Radio Silence) aim for self-reflexive humor. Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy-Brown, playing high-school twins Chad and Mindy, deliver the film’s best laughs, effectively balancing horror-movie awareness with genuine charisma. The Boys star Jack Quaid provides a similar manic energy that is desperately needed: everyone else seems less than interested in the story going on around them. I don’t blame them.
After an hour and a half of disingenuous humor, Scream ends abhorrently by asking its audience for genuine emotional involvement. This begs the essential question: who cares? Why should anyone be interested in returning characters who are hollow nostalgia vehicles, or new characters with the barest of personalities? For as much as the franchise is based in self-aware horror humor, I can only hope that the sure-to-come sequel distances itself from this film’s requel-itis. A bit of genuine fear or consistent humor would go a long way.
Image courtesy of Alexas_photos via Pixabay