‘Scream’ is Still Nailing the Horror Zeitgeist

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Scream 2022 (CREDIT: Paramount Pictures)

Starring: Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jack Quaid, Mikey Madison, Mason Gooding, Dylan Minnette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Marley Shelton, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Kyle Gallner, Sonia Ben Ammar, Roger L. Jackson

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: R for A Lot of Blood, and a Few Chats About Getting It On

Release Date: January 14, 2022 (Theaters)

The latest Scream movie is the fifth in the slasher series, but it’s not called “Scream 5.” Instead, it’s just called “Scream,” exactly like the very first entry. This is the latest example of an annoying trend in which sequels that also work as reboots to long-running franchises have the exact same title as the original, with 2018’s Halloween perhaps the most notorious example. I had convinced myself not to talk about the title in my review, figuring that it would be more interesting to focus on the content of the actual movie. But then I watched the movie, and it turned out that there’s a very good reason for that recycled title. Because this time around, the Woodsboro stabbing crew is aiming its knife at those franchise “requels” and all the other cinema that inspires a certain breed of toxic fandom.

More than 25 years after the first killing spree, you could be forgiven for wondering how there still could possibly be anyone connected to Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) with enough bloodlust to justify another sequel. The answer is that this time around, the motivation is less logical, and therefore more brutal and disturbing. You know the sorts of people who complain about how the likes of latter-day Star Wars and female-led Ghostbusters have destroyed their childhoods? What if they were so upset that they resorted to murder to set things right? That’s a premise that could conceivably stand on its own as an original horror flick, but it feels all too appropriate that instead it has commandeered one of the most beloved scary movie franchises of all time.

In some ways, this latest Scream is like an original effort, insofar as it focuses on the new faces ahead of the legacy characters much more so than any of the other adventures of Woodsboro. But of course, it’s still very much a part of the franchise insomuch as it follows the formula of a killer (or killers) lurking within a friend group of horny young people while terrorizing them with creepy phone calls. (Roger L. Jackson returns once again as the voice of Ghostface, and his deep cadence sounds a lot like the deep, steady tones of original Scream director Wes Craven, to the point that I wondered if Craven had before his 2015 passing recorded some dialogue to be used later.) Don’t worry too much about staleness, though, as there are some zigs when you expect zags, as characters either don’t know – or don’t care – about the rules that supposedly determine who dies and how in a horror movie. Co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have a knack for keeping audiences on their toes like this, which they demonstrated amply in their 2019 bloodbath Ready or Not.

At times, the acting may skew a little more melodramatic than is advisable, but overall, Scream remains as remarkably fun and fresh as it’s ever been. Where originally there were conversations about how blade-wielders patiently stalk their victims, now we have discussions about how the newest generation of horror tastemakers are enthralled by “elevated horror” like The Babadook and Hereditary, and how long-in-the-tooth franchises need to find that sweet spot of “not too different, not too repetitive” to succeed. Scream 2022 finds that sweet spot, and goes in for the kill.

Scream (2022) is Recommended If You Like: Defending all the Scream sequels, Ready or Not, You’re Next, Talking with your fellow movie -obsessed friends, Film Twitter, Listening to and/or hosting movie podcasts

Grade: 4 out of 5 Requels

No Need to Make a Deal with the Devil: Go See ‘Ready or Not’!

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CREDIT: Eric Zachanowich/Twentieth Century Fox

Starring: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Nicky Guadagni, Kristian Bruun, Melanie Scrofano, Elyse Levesque, John Ralston

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: R for Ridiculous and Bloody Violence, Over-the-Top Profanity, and a Few Bumps of Cocaine

Release Date: August 21, 2019

Rich people are so different from the rest of us (HOW DIFFERENT ARE THEY?!) that some of them think it’s perfectly justifiable to hunt other people for fun. Or at least that’s what the 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game” and its many descendants would have us believe. The latest example is Ready or Not, which features the highest-stakes version of hide-and-seek I have ever witnessed. It takes place at the mansion of the Le Domas family, whose black sheep son Alex (Mark O’Brien) has returned home with his new bride Grace (Samara Weaving). The Le Domases made their fortune in the gaming industry, and it is no coincidence that tradition dictates that whenever someone marries into the family, she must play a little game with her in-laws on her wedding night.

As the newbie to all this eccentricity, Grace is of course the hider, which she discovers is quite a frightening position to be in when she learns that everyone is trying to kill her before the sun comes up. This may sound like some sort of twisted sport hunting, but while the Le Domases can be gleeful in their attempted murder, they would rather not have to go through it. And yet they have decided they must, for they believe that something very bad will happen to them if they do not complete the ritual. You see, a few generations ago, when the first Le Domas arrived in America, he made a deal with a strange benefactor who promised – and delivered – great fortune, but with the caveat that his family must perform this wedding night gameplay in perpetuity under penalty of execution. The underlying message is clear: the ultra-rich are prone to some rather offbeat logic to justify their lot in life.

The familial indoctrination on display here is strikingly similar to that of a cult, which has me wondering: is devotion to the principles of the ultra-rich a religious sect unto itself? The religious overtones are certainly there, as the mandatoriness of the lethal hide-and-seek is fashioned as a sort of deal with the devil. But while the Le Domases appear to be allegiant to some sort of dark lord, their loyalty is not all that different than the sort demanded by the God of the Old Testament. While watching Ready or Not, I couldn’t stop thinking of Abraham attempting to sacrifice his son Isaac after God commanded him to do so, with God then rewarding Abraham for his loyalty. Is Alex’s responsibility to kill his new wife just a similar test of faith?

The great satisfaction of Ready or Not is how these weighty issues of generational inheritance fit so seamlessly within the thrills of a relentless and-then-there-were-none-style slasher pic. The performances follow suit. Samara Weaving is like a threatened animal screaming full-bodied howls animated by profound incredulousness, with the survivor’s strength she summons recalling Marilyn Burns in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Sharni Vinson in You’re Next. As the parents and aunt of the groom, Andie MacDowell, Henry Czerny, and Nicky Guadagni are all disturbingly committed to the game, while Adam Brody, as Alex’s brother Daniel, is in eternal negotiations with the legacy he’s inherited. The blood in Ready or Not is disturbing, hilarious, and thought-provoking – what else can you ask for?!

Ready or Not is Recommended If You Like: You’re Next, Clue, The Purge

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Bloody Wedding Dresses