How many times can this film series scream before it loses its voice? Apparently five times isn’t enough. Not that I’m complaining, Scream (2022) is undoubtedly the best sequel since Scream 2 (1997), successfully reconfiguring the plot to work within a modern day horror framework. The consensus? Scream does exactly what a Scream film should; it engages you and provides plentiful satirical commentary on the current state of modern horror. Achieved largely due to directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, creatives who have been producing successful horrors for over a decade. How did they do it? Well, that takes some explaining…
First of all, we sit here in the aftermath of The Matrix Resurrections (2021), a flick that (according to news circulations) was pushing the boundaries of “meta-ness” by commenting on forced sequels, studio money-grabs, and creative intent. Sounded great in theory, but The Matrix Resurrection’s efficacy at exploring this meta self-awareness was brief, middling, and ultimately disconnected to the film’s larger message; effectively making its “meta-ness” appear as little more than a storytelling flourish. Simply put, The Matrix Resurrections meta humor lacked focus, wit, and commitment. Outside of the fact that it was also packaged within a monstrously dull storyline (okay fine, I’ll stop). In my view, Scream is nothing like this. On the contrary; it achieves all of the aforementioned attributes that The Matrix Resurrections could not. I’m not sorry, I felt like that needed to be said.
However, Scream has a legacy of being built on the foundation of satire; with that, it has the advantage of engaging in large and ridiculous satirical plots without too much fear of ridicule from critics and audiences. But satire is only as good as the writer behind it. Scream combines two core approaches to achieve its highly effective satire. The first and most important is this film’s awareness of the material that it’s satirizing; the horror genre itself, or rather, how the genre stands today. Scream recites how modern horror has evolved; more specifically, the move away from classic slashers and creature features into more introspective, slow-burn, character driven horror. It pokes fun at the state of modern horror in good faith and it laughs at itself and the audience in the process. Scream is intentionally hypocritical in all the best ways. In one particular scene a character mockingly spouts an entire monolog about how modern horror reboots construct their narratives with such a cliché formula. The kicker? Scream then does exactly that with its entire narrative, very much on purpose.
The second and perhaps most surprising feat that this film achieves is that in spite of its rants regarding the film industry’s handling of modern horror, Scream remains firmly rooted in its love of the genre. There’s not a doubt in my mind that directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are madly in love with the material they’re purportedly parodying. Regardless of whether Scream’s meta approach doesn’t gel with the less horror inclined folk out there. One thing, however, is certain, this is an entertaining film. And this should come as no surprise given these directors affinity toward entertaining horror flicks such as Ready or Not (2019). Effective satire comes from a place of love.
But if there’s a place of fault, it largely lies in the erratic cast that populate this film. Legacy characters return again and are largely unremarkable additions to the narrative, many new faces appear too, with In the Heights (2021) actress Melissa Barrera helming the leading role; sadly, to unremarkable results. In fact, this film shows its casting strengths almost entirely in its smaller supporting roles. From Jack Quaid (the boyfriend of the lead character), Jenna Ortega (the little sister of the lead character), Mikey Madison (a friend of the sister), and even Jasmin Savoy Brown (a largely minor character). Oddly, all of these supporting roles beamed brighter than any legacy character or lead. Odd, but worth mentioning.
All in all, this film has a near perfect circle of self-referential humor; a jab at modern film-making, a jab at itself, and a jab at the audience. Still don’t get what I mean? Just take a look at the title of this film. It’s officially called Scream, not Scream 5, not Scream: The Return, just…Scream. That’s right, the title itself is a joke aimed at the modern soft reboot epidemic; namely films like Halloween (2018) and Child’s Play (2019). As I said… It’s a perfect circle.