In the early scenes of the latest addition to the Scream franchise, one killer compares his victim to a dead animal, a pile of meat. “But she wasn’t an animal,” says the other, “she was a human being.” The notion of denormalized violence permeates this film, from its almost overly-intense kill scenes to dialogues like the one I just mentioned. Scream films have always operated with a lot of self-awareness, and this new one seems to take that almost to its limits, questioning the cycle of violence and our consumption of it. In a world already so full of death, it asks “who gives a fuck about movies?” going so far as to say “forget the movies, the movies don’t matter.” Slashers have always been windows into the politics of their time, full of topes and regressive tendencies (the film itself reminds us of this;) but within this messy jumble of thematic codes is a radical alterity which challenges popular opinions in an unabashed way. Plus, they’re a lot of fun to watch.
Keeping with the film’s interest in focusing on the repercussions of violence, viewers find Sam and Tara Carpenter, now in New York City, struggling to live with the trauma of surviving Scream (2022). Sam can’t seem to let Tara out of her sight, and Tara refuses to actually process everything they’ve been through. These problems are compounded and magnified when the killings start again. Much like the previous film, Jenna Ortega steals a lot of scenes in this, but Melissa Barrera also shows subtlety and depth in her performance. Together, they have a great chemistry that’s amplified by a solid supporting cast. In a lot of ways, these movies wouldn’t work without the cast; and directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett seem to have struck a goldmine as far as that’s concerned. On top of the acting, a lot of the technical elements do a ton of work as far as the audience experience is concerned.
Quick editing creates a lightning-fast pace that makes the heart speed up during chase or kill scenes, but the movie doesn’t rely on this alone. There are a few instances, including an anxiety-inducing bodega sequence, which do an awesome job of sustaining tension. In these slower moments, the sound design adds a tactile element that places us even more on the edge of our seats. The camerawork is very economical for the most part, only moving when it needs to; but in the tenser scenes the switch to handheld creates a really dynamic viewing experience that jam-packs the frame with energy. All of these aspects of craft help immerse audiences in the movie, making its themes and social commentary that much more impactful.
Like every other movie in this franchise, there’s a real self-awareness at work in this film. Being conscious of the tropes they’re working with, the directors constantly play with viewer expectations, often turning the camera back on us. Towards the end, one of the killers mentions how easy it is to make people believe the worse in someone rather than the best, and we’re made to wonder how that includes us after spending the whole moving wrongly guessing who’s behind all the horror. It’s a wildly fun, thought provoking film. If the first Scream (1996) breathed life into a stale genre, this new one is a challenging entry that asks us to look beyond the movie, where things are much scarier. Watch this in theaters while you can! If you enjoyed this review, be sure to sign up for The Chicano Film Shelf’s Patreon by clicking here! It only takes $3/month to keep this blog ad-free and independent!