Scream (2022)

The 2022 film Scream — aka Scream 5, or 5cream, or Five Cream — is probably the most coherent of the Scream sequels. This is not much of an accomplishment, as the Scream movies, with their twisty whodunit structures and heavy meta-commentary (and troubled production, in some cases), don’t exactly lend themselves to narratives that cleanly gel together. (In general, “coherency” is not typically a valued trait among slashers, as far as I’ve seen.)

But, Scream 5 (the first in the series not directed by Wes Craven, who passed away in 2015) is not the best Scream sequel despite that coherency. In fact, I have it near the bottom of the totem pole, above only Scream 3. That’s not really that much of a diss because all of the Screams are solid entertainment, Scream 5 included. I had a good time! It’s tense and scary fun, with some enjoyable characters and performances, and a few memorable moments.

On the other hand, I woke up the morning after watching it and had trouble recalling more than one or two distinct features about the film. My short-term memory is not as sharp as it used to be, but Scream 5 slipping from my brain is not due to faulty brain chemistry, I don’t think: For as polished and well-executed as the movie is, it lacks much reason for us to care.

Part of the problem is that the movie’s central thesis is a retread of Scream 4’s: For a movie series that’s this meta, it feels redundant to twice have a story built around the idea that this whole outing is essentially a soft reboot, i.e. a “requel,” as the movie labels itself. And Scream 4 told the joke better, with its hysterical fake-out openings and terrific villain revelation.

There are a few things that work in Five Cream’s favor. The first is that the kills are the most gruesome and creative in the series to date. Most of the deaths are straightforward stabbings, but extra nasty: Blades sliding through hands, slowly entering necks, etc. It really escalates the sense the sense of doom and danger of the proceedings. The scares are well-paced, too, doled out steadily during the movie’s runtime. Put another way, Scream 5 might be the best slasher qua slasher of the series yet.

I also think the movie does right by the returning cast, David Arquette as Dewey in particular. It’s the first time in the entire series that I walked away wondering if a Scream movie should have, in fact, given us more Dewey than it did. (On the other hand, Courtney Cox’s  plastic surgery is one of the scariest things in the whole film.)

Scream 5 also features one of the tensest and best scenes in the entire franchise, notable for what it doesn’t do rather than what it does. Near the halfway point, we follow one of the teens we expect to shortly die for four full minutes without a single jump scare or flash of violence until the very end. Just watching him make lunch, get dressed, etc., constantly waiting for Ghostface, the stabby villain of the series, to appear. Trust me that four minutes, whether or not it sounds like a long time, feels about ten times longer since we’re white-knuckled waiting for a jump scare the entire time. It’s a masterful little construction of suspense.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t quite stick the landing: The murderers end up being the two most suspicious characters from the start. I think part of the idea is that it’s a sort of reverse twist: by feinting at these characters as the true identities of the murderers, we as an audience expect it not to be them, so the real surprise is that it is in fact these kids who looked suspicious in the first place! Herrings red no more! But in practice, it just comes across as the predictable, boring culprits. (Though I did enjoy the bit of commentary behind their motives; it’s a spin on toxic internet fandom taken to its violent extreme.)

As ultimately unremarkable as the movie is, it’s still a perfectly watchable and competent experience, delivering most of what I hoped for — not something to take for granted in a horror sequel coming 10 years after the previous entry with a new director for the first time. I like the teen cast well enough that I’ll happily watch Scream 6, which has already been greenlit. I just hope that one will give me a little bit more to remember the next morning than Scream 5.

Is It Good?

Nearly Good (4/8)

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