[Review] ‘Scream’ Carves Up Killer and Heartfelt Commentary on Horror and Wes Craven’s Legacy

History tends to repeat itself. We’re meant to look to the past and learn from its mistakes. That holds true in life and in horror. Wes Craven‘s seminal 1996 slasher dissected the patterns of the genre with a self-referential wink while going for the jugular, but horror has evolved tremendously since. Some rules hold firm, and some no longer apply. Discerning which is which isn’t as obvious or straightforward. The new Scream takes a hard, thoughtful look at Craven’s legacy and the genre, carving up brutal commentary while holding up a bloodied mirror.

James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick‘s screenplay evolves the franchise in clever and deeply poignant ways. It’s been twenty-five years since the original series of murders in Woodsboro and a decade since the events of the last string of slayings. That means scar tissue has long developed over old wounds for both Woodsboro and its legacy players, as well as a semblance of peace. That is until Ghostface reappears and targets a new generation of Woodsboro teens. How Vanderbilt and Busick graft a wholly new story onto the familiar is just one of the many impressive surprises in store for fans.

Directors Matt Bettinelli-OlpinTyler Gillett dedicate Scream to Wes Craven, and the horror master’s imprint looms large over their film. It’s not just in the reverence that appears in the subtle, minute details but in the measure taken to imbue this entry with its history and the characters’ organic maturity and evolution. As intrinsic to the film as Craven’s memory is, the filmmakers make it their own. There’s a parallel conversation happening on screen and behind the camera that overlaps in many ways. Scream very much belongs in this universe as an affecting continuation, but it looks and feels different, too. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillet never lose their voice or vision in their tribute, and the baton from one generation of horror filmmakers gets effectively and seamlessly passed to another.

The filmmakers couldn’t have assembled a more perfect cast, either. The newcomers get plenty of room to breathe and develop, each ensuring Woodsboro feels just as lived in and textural as it did twenty-five years ago. It ensures that the deaths continue to hurt. Oh, do they hurt; this franchise hasn’t lost its edge at all in its visceral violence. Not everything works to perfection. A specific effect gets a little distracting, and some fake-outs don’t land as intended. But they’re very, very minor flaws in the grand scheme. None of it detracts from how exhilarating revisiting this slasher world feels or how it still manages to keep you guessing all these years later. 

Nestled deep at the center of a fascinating story lies the familiar self-awareness and respect for the genre. Only this time, that’s broadened to a surprising degree. It looks outward as well as inward. It dovetails so nicely with the narrative that the third act’s impact hits hard.

Scream defies simple expectations. It’s a clever examination of the genre and how it’s shifted since the ’90s without ever losing focus on building a deeply engaging story that makes you care. The stakes are higher than ever in many ways.

The filmmakers kick the year off with a knockout horror movie that gives all the thrills, chills, triumphant cheers, feels, and a body count you could want in a slasher and then some. To deliver something that feels like a warm horror hug yet unpredictable and new is no small feat. Scream is as much “For Wes” as for the franchise’s stalwart fans, made by savvy fans. It sidesteps the recent trend of legacy sequels in ingenious ways and fearlessly forges forward with a keen eye for which rules to make or break. It makes for a breathless, razor-sharp slasher worthy of the legacy.

Welcome back, Woodsboro. We missed you.

Scream releases in theaters on January 14, 2022.