**This article contains spoilers for all Scream films.**
In watching Scream (2022) over the weekend, I was pleasantly surprised by a variety of things. First, I was surprised that the fifth installment of a 25 year-old horror franchise, released in the middle of January, was so…good. It’s extremely rare, especially in the horror genre, to have a sequel/reboot/”requel” that has near the amount of quality as the original. In the Scream franchise, I always considered Scream 2 to the best sequel, followed closely by Scream 4 (which was just slightly ahead of it’s time), with the too campy for my tastes Scream 3 dead last. After seeing the new Scream, though, I have to say that I now consider it the superior sequel in the franchise.
Let me start by saying I had never really been a true fan of horror before 1996. I had never seen the point of watching endless amounts of pretty white people getting killed off one by one until the villain is inevitably defeated, only to miraculously return for an even bloodier sequel. However, when Scream came out and featured two of my favorite actresses, Neve Campbell from Party of Five and Courteney Cox from Misfits of Science (yes, she had an acting career before Friends), so I was absolutely interested. Aside from the presence of these two women, what I really enjoyed about Scream was the writing. It didn’t talk down to it’s audience, it was self-aware in a way that no movie, much less a horror film, had ever done before. It was “smart horror,” and that was the lightning in a bottle that turned me into a life-long Scream fan.
Like any horror franchise, the real question became could the sequels match the magic captured in the first film? The answer is yes and no. While each sequel subsequently became celebrated for different reasons; Scream 2 had the best Ghostface reveal, Scream 3 was the funniest/campiest, and Scream 4 had the goriest kills, none were able to achieve everything that the first accomplished–until now. Scream 5, as it is frequently referred to, is the first sequel to come close to rivaling the events of the original. Here’s why.
Each of the Scream films automatically earns a degree of gravitas every time Neve Campbell appears onscreen. Her portrayal of Sidney Prescott as a survivor is perhaps one of the most nuanced performances in horror, comparable to Jamie Lee Curtis’ iconic Halloween role as Laurie Strode. Campbell never feels like she is calling it in, even when her screen-time is reduced (don’t think we didn’t notice that in Scream 3) and the dialogue she is given is less than stellar (again, looking at you, S3), and seems to be able to add another layer to the character with each film.
While the topic of trauma and the legacy it creates was frequently discussed around the release of 2018’s Halloween, the Scream franchise had already been doing a wonderful job of exploring this topic along the way. With every wince, every tear that was shed, and every longing look that was given by Campbell, we see Sidney go through various stages of grief and PTSD. Scream 3 introduced the idea of Sidney using her own tragedy to help others, by working for a counseling service for abused women. By Scream 4, she had owned her backstory by turning it into an inspirational self-help book. And in Scream 5, we see her use her own tragedy in order to help others avoid the same fate. This is truly a full-circle moment for the character. Not to mention, she is now married to a guy named Mark (presumably, Patrick Dempsey’s Mark Kincaid from Scream 3), and has daughters of her own, which also help fuel her mission to put an end to the new Ghostface.
This one absolutely hurt, but it also gave the film an emotional depth that we hadn’t seen in the previous films, except for maybe Randy’s death in Scream 2. The OG three characters had gotten by relatively unscathed in the sequels, so it was time to up the stakes and have one of them to die this time around. It was nice to see that the filmmakers utilized his death in a way that didn’t make it feel gratuitous, or an almost throwaway death like Cotton Weary’s at the beginning of Scream 3. He died after reconciling with Gale, he died saving people, and the event of his death is what actually brings Sidney back to Woodsboro.
Arquette did an amazing job at portraying the character, which wasn’t always taken the seriously and was often used for comedic relief. However, this time around, Dewey becoming the grizzled ex-sheriff and reluctant protector of a new crop of Woodsboro teens felt fitting. Obviously, Arquette, Cox, and Campbell had all formed a unique bond from filming these movies over the years, and that camaraderie definitely came through on-screen during the aftermath of Dewey’s death.
The Supporting Cast
The Scream franchise, while famous for it’s meta writing, isn’t inherently known for it’s supporting cast, aka the characters outside of the original three who are most likely either going to a) die or b) turn out to be the killers (except for maybe Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby in S4). Scream 5 feels totally different, though. From the introduction of Jenna Ortega’s Tara, to the array of high schoolers in danger of being offed by Ghostface, this young cast of supporting characters is the most engaging since the original set of friends in Scream.
The new crop of teen suspects/victims includes some of the most talented young actors in Hollywood. Melissa Barrera easily slips into the role of new final girl Sam and does an excellent job of portraying a young girl struggling with her own mental health in the midst of a bloodbath. Dylan Minnette is a great addition to the film as Wes, Deputy Judy’s son, making his death perhaps the saddest amongst the new characters. The twins, played by Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown, are standouts as well, with both giving sibling rivalry/intimacy realness (fingers crossed they’re in the sequel). Jack Quaid’s supportive boyfriend Richie was absolutely hilarious, making it even more shocking that he turns out to be one of the killers.
The Easter Eggs
Neve Campbell had always voiced her apprehension about returning to the franchise without the late Wes Craven at the helm. This is an understandable concern, given what can frequently happen to a film franchise once the original creative teams leave. However, in the case of Scream 5, the new directors were such fans of Wes and the original Scream films, that the film comes off as a love letter to fans of the franchise, filled with all kinds of nods to the previous four films.
Not only does the film include a slew of Easter Eggs, it also features them in a variety of ways. Some of them obvious, like the appearance of Heather Matarazzo as Martha Meeks, Randy’s sister and the mother of the twins and the previously mentioned name drop of Mark as Sidney’s husband. Others are a bit more blink-and-you-miss-it, such as the confirmation that Kirby survived the events of Scream 4 (while Richie is watching the Stab movies via YouTube on his laptop, one of the suggested videos is a survivor’s interview with Kirby), and the way that Sam cleans the blood off the knife after killing Richie at the end is the same way Billy Loomis cleaned it in the original.
A Passing of the Torch
All good things must come to an end, and while Scream 5 definitely leaves things open to another sequel, it may not include Sidney Prescott or Gale Weathers–and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The end of the film sees several survivors of Ghostface, including Sam, Tara, and the twins, so there’s obviously room for a sequel utilizing those characters. And while it was nice seeing Campbell and Cox return to step into their iconic roles, it also feels like Scream 5 is a perfect way to end their character arcs. Sidney has overcome much of her past trauma and started a family, Gale achieved the kind of fame and success that she had always wanted, and, quite frankly, without Arquette’s Dewey it would be weird to have another installment that included Sidney and Gale without him.
There is a sincere moment at the end of the film between Sam and Sidney, in which they both recognize something of the other within themselves. Sam asks Sidney, “Am I going to be okay?,” to which Sidney takes a deep breath and says “Eventually.” This feels like an acknowledgement that Sam’s dealings with Ghostface probably isn’t quite done, but that Sidney sees a strength in Sam that will help her survive whatever comes her way. I can’t think of a more beautiful way to pass the final girl torch.