Image: James Bareham/Technovanguard
Let’s talk about Ghostface
One thing that separates Scream and its sequels from other long-running slasher-film series — apart from the fact that most of its characters actually understand the significance of telling someone “I’ll be right back” when a knife-wielding masked killer is on the loose — is the fact that these movies are structured as whodunits. Though the Ghostface mask has become as iconic as Jason Voorhees’ hockey mask, Freddy Krueger’s burnt face, or Michael Myers’ half-melted William Shatner mask, the legion of Ghostface killers in Scream movies never develop supernatural resistance to death. It’s a different (and very mortal) person underneath every time — usually more than one, as characters in the newest Scream point out. This makes Scream films into particularly spoiler-sensitive slashers. (No offense to Friday the 13th fans, but can most of those sequels be spoiled at all?)
But as is often the case with the Scream series, the identity of the killer matters less than what the movie is saying about its killers. So let’s talk through the revelations in the final section of the 2022 Scream, number five in the series, and what they mean for the previous films in the franchise. Fair warning: There will be major Scream spoilers from here on out.
[Ed. Note: He isn’t kidding. Ending spoilers for the 2022 Scream, aka Scream 5, ahead.]
Is Rian Johnson in the new Scream movie?
If you ask Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown) early in the new Scream, she might explain that the real villain of the whole series is Looper director Rian Johnson. But the series she’s referring to is Stab, the movies-within-the-movies based on the events of Scream and its sequels. When real-world events ran out, the Stab series evidently went off on the usual slasher-movie tangents. (Back in Scream 4, someone mentioned an entry that included time travel.)
The most recent Stab movie is apparently the eighth installment, rechristened just Stab (sound familiar?) and directed by the “Knives Out guy,” as one character refers to Johnson. He isn’t mentioned by name, and he doesn’t make a personal appearance. He might as well, though; the new Scream crew is clearly thinking about the divisive, rabid response to Johnson’s Star Wars movie The Last Jedi. Mindy rants and raves about how ill-received Stab 8 was, and how it lost everything people loved about the original Stab and undermined the films that came before it. So to sum up, the last Stab was a Rian Johnson-directed eighth installment of a long-running franchise that made certain corners of the internet absolutely lose its mind over perceived slights to a nostalgic property. Noted.
A greater ambiguity in this scene is what Scream 5 is saying about the never-ending Last Jedi controversy. Like her uncle Randy, the designated film geek of the first two Screams (with a video cameo in part three), Mindy is a fast-talking movie nerd who’s funny and likable. That makes her veiled shots at Last Jedi seem like a voice of expertise rather than fan entitlement. For a while, it seems like the movie is trying to have its cake and eat it too: satirizing the out-of-proportion fan derangement over The Last Jedi while also recasting Johnson’s thoughtful tweaks to Star Wars as equivalent to one of those late-period Halloween sequels that go off in nonsensical and vaguely insulting directions.
After all, Scream 5’s point-of-view character Sam (Melissa Barrera), who has returned to Woodsboro after years away after her sister was attacked by someone in a Ghostface mask, doesn’t seem to have much opinion about movie franchises. She depends on people like Mindy (or her sister Tara, who claims to prefer “elevated horror”) to define the rules.
Does Scream have a post-credits scene?
If you stay through the end credits of Scream, the closest thing you’ll get to a credit cookie is catching Rian Johnson’s name in the “special thanks” section toward the end of the crawl, indicating that the filmmakers aren’t actually exercising genuine animosity toward the Knives Out guy. It even seems plausible that directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (who, like Johnson, started out in low-budget genre territory before getting called up to do a big franchise picture) sought and received his blessing to make him the in-universe director of Stab 8.
As for an actual mid-or-post-credits tease for Scream 6, the movie contains nothing of the sort. The new filmmakers seem to understand that it wouldn’t fit the Scream M.O. The other entries never really teased further sequels, since they definitively dispatched the people wearing the various masks and cloaks. For all of their jokes about rules, slashers, and sequels, the Screams have steadfastly avoided planting seeds for future installments; the ending of Scream 3, where series protagonist Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is comfortable enough to leave a creaking door ajar, is even a little poetic in its willingness to give the then-trilogy some metaphorical closure.
The latest movie makes a halfhearted concession to horror conventions by a quick shock-cut to an image of the Ghostface costume before the credits, but it’s completely context-free. It isn’t an actual character or plot point — just a quick jump-scare seemingly meant to fudge the kind of but-he’s-alive! ending these movies have never indulged, but that both slasher fans and franchise-movie watchers have come to expect.
So who’s the killer in Scream 5?
Everyone knows that the killers in the first Scream are Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) and his best friend Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard). Scream 5 is written to be self-conscious about its status as what the characters call a “requel” — a film that combines elements of a remake (with new characters in a similar situation) and a sequel (with old characters returning to please the fans).
So it turns out that the killers in the 2022 Scream were inspired by the original killings — their whole motivation for reviving Ghostface is to be the reboot they want to see in the world. It turns out that Amber (Mikey Madison), bestie of Tara (Jenna Ortega), the girl who is attacked (but not killed!) in Scream 5’s traditional opening sequence, is a hardcore Stab fan who wants new “source material” to fuel a back-to-basics Stab sequel. And in a nod to the original film, where one of the killers was Sidney’s boyfriend, Amber’s partner in murder is Richie (Jack Quaid), the seemingly innocuous boyfriend of Tara’s older sister Sam — who is Billy Loomis’ secret daughter. (Naturally, the movie calls out the possibility of the fatal love interest early on, which serves as a fake-out for Richie’s nefarious true nature.)
Even though Amber and Richie repeat the killer-boyfriend trope in real life, they aren’t sticking to reality for their new Stab script. They actually want to frame Sam for the murders, because Sam carrying on her dad’s legacy would be a classic “requel” move. Basically, they want to shape a real-life narrative so it can inspire a movie they want to see — something “for the fans”! — and they’re rewriting their chosen story in blood.
As with a lot of Scream sequels, it ultimately doesn’t matter much who the killers are. The motivation, rather than the killers’ identity, tends to be integral to each sequel’s thesis — though this also means that the film’s thesis doesn’t emerge until the climatic monologue where the killers inevitably explain themselves. (The series’ legacy characters, Sidney, Gale (Courteney Cox), and Dewey (David Arquette), are endearing and resilient, but they don’t have much of a track record in terms of actually solving mysteries.) After all, for the whodunit to work, at least a few suspects have to remain plausible for much of the running time.
Accordingly, almost any of the supporting characters in Scream 5 could fill the role of “crazed superfans obsessed with restoring Stab/Scream to its original glory.” The real villain here is toxic fandom. Amber and Richie are exactly the fans who Mindy is alluding to earlier in the movie when she describes a visceral Reddit reaction against Stab 8. It’s clear in retrospect that Richie, who seemed to be watching Stab movies on Netflix and complaint videos on YouTube as a way of cheerfully catching up with Sam’s situation, was actually indulging his obsession with the series he feels has lost its way.
Though other Scream movies have saved some pointed commentary for their last 30 minutes (Scream 4 is kind of slack in the middle, but it has a killer final act about desire for social-media fame), this one feels especially barbed in satirizing the fan desire not just for more sequels, but for sequels made to their exact specifications, and with fans’ preferred ideas about mixing the old and new — ideas which are often straight out of a hacky screenwriter’s limited imagination, just like Amber and Richie’s next-gen-Loomis notion is. After so many “for the fans!” PR tours, there’s something thrilling about a slasher series that has its knives out for the worst parts of fandom.
Who dies in the 2022 Scream?
Another aspect of the Scream series that sets it apart from other slashers is that it’s maintained a core cast of beloved characters across five installments, something virtually unheard of in other horror series. Laurie Strode will have appeared in seven Halloween movies by the time David Gordon Green’s new trilogy is completed in 2023, but bringing her back involved resetting the continuity. Sidney, Gale, and Dewey have appeared in every Scream movie without a reset. The series is notable for the fact that the villain isn’t the unstoppable Michael Myers-style killing machine — Sidney Prescott is the one who ultimately can’t be stopped, and the audience knows that. Maybe because the series is so aware of slasher clichés, it’s never resorted to giving Sidney an ignominious end for the sake of shock value.
But the filmmakers do try something a little different here: Dewey, whose survival of multiple stabbings has become a running joke in the series, actually does die this time around, capping off a sad postscript to his sheriff days where he broke things off with Gale again, was forced into early retirement, and became an alcoholic loner. Rough stuff, but it does give David Arquette some meatier material than just feuding with Gale. Call it his Han Solo moment; we all want our Han moments to recall the original Star Wars, but sometimes they’re more like The Force Awakens.
The other deaths — like Sheriff Judy (Marley Shelton), who seems to have been brought back from Scream 4 for the express purpose of being a “legacy” character who’s also expendable — are relatively predictable, though they’re light by the series standards. In this one, multiple teenagers survive Ghostface attacks, with a robust cast potentially available to pick things up in Scream 6.
Yet most of these characters also seem ill-equipped to carry those future, inevitable Scream follow-ups. For all of Scream’s smart commentary about the artistic dead ends of “requels” and the toxic fans who chase them there, it still feels a bit like it’s painted itself into a corner: The more likable and capable characters it introduces (and Sam and Tara are both very easy to root for), the trickier it is to develop them beyond forever menacing them with new knife-wielding maniacs, and the harder it will be to balance out the “legacy” characters (even if only two major ones remain) with the new class. The best thing about the new Scream is that it punts any ongoing-franchise concerns to another film. The worst thing is that it’ll probably inspire one.