‘Scream’: Nostalgia is a double-edged knife

“Scream” (2022) – In 1996, Wes Craven’s “Scream” changed the rules of slasher films because its characters actually state the rules of slasher films. 

Remember Randy’s (Jamie Kennedy) three-part edict?

“Number One, you can never have sex.  Sex equals death, okay?”

“Number Two, you can never drink or do drugs.”

“And Number Three, never, ever, ever under any circumstances say, ‘I’ll be right back.’” 

There you have it!  Randy, a teenage cinephile, accurately recites warnings that anyone living through 80s and 90s horror films had observed for years.

When on-screen airheads in any “Friday the 13th” or “Halloween” movie disregard the aforementioned guidelines, death was a certainty, and yes, it arrived quickly, or at least before the end of a 90-minute runtime.  However, in Craven’s seminal 1996 flick, someone actually spelled out the rules, and in effect, said the quiet part out loud. 

Audiences weren’t quiet about “Scream”. They/we loved it and its on-screen self-awareness, and then rewarded Craven, writer Kevin Williamson, and the recognizable cast – including Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, and Drew Barrymore – with massive box office receipts, 173 million dollars on a mere budget of 15.

Oh, the film is also scary. In fact, in the middle of my personal “Scream” theatrical experience in 1996, a 21-year-old woman – sitting next to me and who I did not know – shrieked, reached to her right, and grabbed my arm during one of the tense moments. 

After the scare passed, she said something like, “Oh s***.  You aren’t my boyfriend.  I’m sorry.” 

Her boyfriend was sitting to her left. 

Sidney (Neve Campbell) and Gale (Courteney Cox)

So, yes, “Scream” was a megahit, and the menacing Ghostface terrorized Sidney Prescott (Campbell), lawman Dewey Riley (Arquette), and reporter Gale Weathers (Cox) for three more sequels.  In fact, “Scream 4” (2011) was Craven’s last movie before he passed away in 2015 at 76 years young. 

However, from my perspective, the film’s formula – and unveiling of mystery villain(s), like a “Scooby-Doo” episode – grew tiresome and repetitive in “Scream 3” (2000) and “Scream 4” (2011).

Even though 11 years have passed since the last “Scream” sequel, the long break didn’t engender much innovative enlightenment.  The 2022 film – simply titled “Scream” – has a new crop of high schoolers bantering about anything but homework – but unfortunately, this tired retread is just the same story.

Sure, “Ready or Not” (2019) directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett also summon Sidney, Dewey, and Gale, three beloved old friends that decided to show up for their 26-year class reunion.

Well, Dewey is beloved, for sure.  Still, it’s lovely to see Campbell, Arquette, and Cox revisit these cherished roles, but they are supporting players here, as screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick pull their hamstrings as they stretch to crowbar Sidney, Dewey, and Gale into the story.

Sidney, especially.

Sidney (Neve Campbell)

Then again, this Scream Team needed these Gen Xers as nostalgia bait because when this Ghostface tale plays out, one realizes that there is no other earthly reason to watch this new “Scream”.  

So, we are back in Woodsboro, Calif., and someone calls a teenager (who will not be revealed in this review and who is alone in a big house) and threatens her unless she passes some scary movie trivia.  Naturally, the caller is Ghostface, and bloody carnage is inevitable. 

Well, who are the new players, anyhow? We meet Tara (Jenna Ortega), her older sister, Sam (Melissa Barrera), Sam’s boyfriend, Richie (Jack Quaid), Liv (Sonia Ammar), Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), Mindy’s brother, Chad (Mason Gooding), Wes (Dylan Minnette), and Amber (Mikey Madison). 

In other words, let’s say “Hello,” to the potential victims, and one or two of them could be secretly donning the white mask and black garb and carving up the locals.  Or perhaps, the sicko slayer is someone else in town? 

Sam (Melissa Barrera)

Anyways, Tara and Sam struggle with their trying sibling relationship, and their friction lies at the heart of the movie, so this critic took note of their names.  Wes too, because of the obvious ode to the late Mr. Craven, but no one else’s moniker stuck.  At least Mindy – as a horror film nerd and the 2022 reincarnation of Randy – has plenty of noteworthy references of the genre, the previous murders, discussions about the “Stab” series, and extensive explanations about meta in this universe. 

We see the teens party, hang out, and separate at times, which leaves them vulnerable, and since none of the kiddos have been chased by a real-life murderer before, Dewey and Gale offer their victim and vigilante expertise.  At the moment, Sidney is miles and miles away and living the married life with Mark or Matt or somebody, but hopefully, she’ll also swoop in and show this new crop of young faces how to survive like a true final girl

Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett attempt to function the best they can in this beaten-down, extremely recognizable formula, and they do conjure up a few creative kills that will incite golf claps and “Ooohs” or “Ahhhs” from horror-film diehards.  Still, this series has run its course, as this cinematic echo might trigger glances at your watch over the 114-minute runtime.

Is “Scream” (2022) a bad movie?

Tara (Jenna Ortega)

No, it’s not a disastrous, foolhardy sequel, like say, “The Matrix Resurrections”, but it’s a needless one.  At times, a messy one too.  For instance, Dewey and Sam jump in a car and race to a hospital during daylight hours but arrive at the said healthcare facility at night. 

Geez, I didn’t know that Woodsboro was so sprawling.  

Oh, Gale arrives shortly after, and it’s daytime again. 

Also, Tara is confined and glued to a wheelchair, but later, she hops around on crutches like an Olympic athlete. Well, almost.

On the plus-side, Ortega can conjure up tears before you can say, “It’s a scream, Baby,” and Barrera shows that she can function well outside of her charismatic turn in the musical “In the Heights” (2021). 

Still, the reason to see “Scream” (2022) is for the trio of 40/50-somethings, but unfortunately, we’ve seen this murderous song and dance before. While watching this movie, you might think of better times, like 1996, when this series’ self-aware ambiance was shiny and new, and when total strangers grab you for dear life during a petrifying crescendo. 

Yes, better times…years ago.  Sigh, nostalgia is a double-edged knife.   

⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Written by: James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick

Starring: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Dylan Minnette, Marley Shelton, Sonia Ammar, Mikey Madison, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Jack Quaid, and Mason Gooding

Image credits: Paramount Pictures

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