What to Watch Verdict
'Scream' slashes through modern horror culture with a slick, merciless blade in this fifth franchise entry that's just as spirited and sharp as Wes Craven's originals.
🔪 Jasmin Savoy Brown kills it as the "Randy Meeks" role
🔪 Ghostface is still an intimidating killer
🔪 Finds more commentary worth a fifth movie
🔪 "HOW CAN FANS BE TOXIC?!" [chef's kiss]
🔪 Overly meta-humorous, might deter some
🔪 Wobbles a tad at the end
🔪 Character deaths feel a bit early once or twice
Let’s cut to the chase on Scream: Ghostface's first massacre without Wes Craven’s fingerprints feels at home in the master’s franchise. New directing duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (a portion of the Radio Silence filmmaking team) point back to the brutalist basics of call, kill, repeat, while writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick understand Craven’s motives, honor the horror franchise's traditions through reinvention and gut toxic fandoms without mercy.
As Scream 2 skewers sequels and Scream 4 ravages reboots, 2022’s Scream sets its crosshairs on another franchise milestone using savage horror commentary that once again disrupts prevalent genre patterns. No one is safe from nostalgia gatekeepers to “elevated horror” snobs.
Decades after the first Woodsboro incident spearheaded by Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) and Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard), California's infamous township becomes home to a fifth series of serial murders. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Riley (Courteney Cox) and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) reappear, because what’s a Scream movie without the original heroes? Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), her sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) and Sam’s boyfriend Richie Kirsch (Jack Quaid) represent fresh victims to be hacked, along with a host of high school suspects that make up the new Scream cast. These are the details you’re allowed to know because even a sentence further enters spoiler territory.
Alright, what can I reveal in this review?
Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett honor Craven’s original vision of Scream as vicious and bloodthirsty. Don’t get me wrong, death plagues Woodsboro’s history — but 2022’s Scream had me squirming and cringing anew. Hunting knives pierce flesh as the camera holds or jab into torsos at Whac-A-Mole speeds in ways that recall David Gordon Green’s body counting revamp of Michael Myers in Halloween and Halloween Kills. Ghostface mocks legacy characters as they dodge plunging steel with his soulless hubris about suburban stalks, treating future corpses as pin cushions for his iconic blade. Radio Silence shows their mean streak in Scream, more so than previous sequels, which at one point featured Jay and Silent Bob cameos.
Of course, Craven’s imparting of rules to survive slashers as commanded by original character Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) is integral to the franchise's macabre humor fans adore. Enter Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown) — a relative of Uncle Randy — who spews an encyclopedic database that navigates the cloudiness of franchise “requals” (remake + sequel). The wall between in-universe "Stab" titles and Scream itself shatters as Mindy analyzes the highs, lows and what-the-hells of Scream under the guise of "Stab" descriptions, cheekily roasting fifth entries in franchises as desperate attempts at continuation. It’s the only approach that makes sense, given sequels, threequels and reboots have already been decimated by Craven and Kevin Williamson’s wits. This Scream shouldn’t work, and no one understands that better than Radio Silence, Vanderbilt and Busick.
Specifically, Vanderbilt and Busick’s screenplay abhors the divisions in horror fandom that give horror appreciation a lousy reputation. From the opening sequence where a character scoffs at schlock like the gory "Stab" as she praises the traumatic depths of The Babadook to later monologues about modern horror’s downfall under woke regimes, Scream is throwing haymakers. Vanderbilt and Busick flip a mirror on horror fans and reveal the real monsters, which might bother the wrong viewers — and that’s alright. It’s in the spirit of preserving the uniqueness of eras throughout genre history, learning from the original Scream and Scream 4. Mindy, Sidney and others light a fuse that I can’t wait to see reach its cultural explosion.
That said, the crimson-colored whodunit structure is what struggles most, and while commentaries are often aggressively razor-sharp, Scream wobbles upon exit. Radio Silence holds steady through mashups of fresh meat and scarred veterans battling everything from exhaustion to reinvention, but the film's grand unmasking lacks the uncontested gotcha intensity once commonplace. I can’t say more, which doesn’t support arguments, but any further reasoning would require unwanted divulgence.
Scream is undoubtedly a success that stands as a scathing and slick takedown of horror at large, and characters like Mindy even outshine their influences once or twice. Yet, finale reveals don’t match the overall narrative punishment and protest that’s so headstrong otherwise.
However, what Radio Silence, James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick get right in Scream is worthy of Wes Craven’s canon. Any shots at overuse of hiding Ghostface behind open doors or laughable callbacks to the unkillable Roman Bridger are out of reverence. Any miscues in structure or handling of past specters resemble the biggest ambitious swings. If anything, Craven’s franchise foundation is further fortified.
Should there be another Scream entry with or without Sidney, Gale or Dewey? As the highest praise I can muster, I’d be the first to endorse another investigation involving whoever survives Ghostface’s latest bloodbath.
Just ... nope, nevermind. We’re done here before I ruin Scream.
Scream will be released exclusively in movie theaters globally on Jan. 14.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.