Photo: Paramount Pictures
The central challenge of any Scream sequel is how to do justice to the self-aware, tongue-in-cheek quality of Scream without either straying too far into comic pointlessness or meta-disappearing up one’s own meta-ass. Not every Scream sequel has achieved this balance; one might argue most haven’t. In part because director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson’s brilliant, scary, and even kind of moving 1996 original was itself something of a poison pill: It came preloaded with all the po-mo self-reflectivity one could ever want, taking place in a world where generations of slasher movies had already prepared the victims for all the genre clichés they were about to confront (and usually fall prey to). Any attempt to one-up the movie was likely doomed to fail, because it had already one-upped itself, and it had done so while also managing to be absolutely terrifying.
The new Scream at least seems to understand this on some fundamental level. It has a back-to-basics quality that might, at first, lull you into thinking it’s a more straightforward reboot. It opens with the obligatory girl-stuck-at-home-talking-on-the-phone attack, as teenager Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) is questioned by a mysterious voice that at first seems friendly, pretending to be a friend of her mom’s from “group,” but quickly devolves into the slithery, menacing cadences of Ghostface, who loves to quiz his or her victims about horror films (or, in Scream-speak, “scary movies.”) Of course, this is 2022, so Tara, it turns out, is more of an A24 gal and prefers so-called elevated horror. “Ask me about It Follows! Ask me about Hereditary! Ask me about The Witch!” she shrieks as things get more desperate — not long before she’s stabbed to within an inch of her life, with her leg broken for good measure. It’s a striking sequence, mainly because the talented Ortega makes Tara’s fear palpable as she goes from boredom to terror.
The attack on Tara prompts the intervention of her estranged older sister, Sam (Melissa Barrera), who along with her boyfriend, Richie (Jack Quaid), returns to the town of Woodsboro to take care of her sibling and also get to the bottom of who might have done something like this. Tara has, as one might expect, a close cohort of friends, all of whom could be the culprit but most of whom will become victims. Sam also enlists the help of former sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette), who is now divorced from TV personality Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and living in a trailer with bottles of liquor strewn around. Dewey in turn calls Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), prompting her to return to Woodsboro as well — no great surprise there, as every previous Scream movie has been, on some basic level, Sidney’s story.
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