Toxic Fandom in Scream (2022)

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Ghostface in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group's "Scream." Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

by Curran McCrory

A few months ago, I remember scrolling through YouTube and coming across a trailer for yet another entry in the Scream franchise. I clicked on it, of course, found myself completely uninterested, and continued on with my aimless content consumption. I had completely forgotten the film’s existence until it popped up in theaters. I had a change of heart and decided to go for it; I had a movie gift card that had been sitting in my wallet for months, so the worst thing that could have happened was that I’d have to watch a stupid movie for free.
This nonchalant attitude I had about seeing the fifth installment of a twenty-five-year-old franchise is something that I have found myself getting way too comfortable with. I believe every film franchise has its die-hard fans who feel a personal responsibility to keep up with and maintain the lore, and an equally aggressive harbor of critics who ruthlessly condemn the franchise for being a shameless opportunity for studio revenue. In most cases, there is little that can be done to bridge the gap between these polarizing groups. I fall somewhere in the middle of this debate, cautious to lean in either direction so much so that my general attitude towards most franchises, Scream included, has turned to apathy. I’ll add, while I don’t feel particularly enthused about the way the franchise has evolved until now, the original Scream has been one of my favorite movies since childhood.
So it turned out that my gift card was for a different theater, and I paid full-price plus concessions for my boyfriend and I to see this potentially disappointing cash grab. Expectations aside, this Scream blew me away. Not because it was a reinvention of horror tropes that set it apart from the genre. Wes Cravens’ first installment did that and did it best. This iteration, like the original, is deeply infused with meta-commentary on horror films and the media. Characters here, even more so, toy with the self-awareness that they themselves are playing roles in a film. But what truly makes this film special is its reworking of how the motives of a Scream killer can be relevant and believable in the present moment. It goes without saying that one should go into this film with a general knowledge of what the franchise is about.
Scream (2022) directs its sick brand of satire towards toxic fandom, specifically of sequels. In this universe, eight Stab films have been made chronicling the murders that actually took place in the previous four Scream movies. Characters actively discuss their feelings and problems with the franchise, reflecting the hysteria that has so commonly clouded the reception of sequels today. Franchise fandoms have turned into online angry mobs, often centering the entire conversation about films they love around whether or not the filmmakers of each new installment will ruin what the previous films have built. Many have such a strong attachment to the lore of the original narratives that it becomes increasingly more difficult to satisfy as franchises continue. We have seen this happen with Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and many other film series that began with beloved films and moved on to fan-driven intellectual properties.
One character in Scream (2022) delivers an explicit definition of the “requel” which this film essentially is. Rather than advance the plot of its predecessors or wipe the slate clean, it incorporates characters and elements of the original while also introducing a new cast and story to reboot the franchise. I am perhaps the easiest target audience for this film, considering my love for the original, and I do not doubt that significantly weaker further installments are likely on the horizon. But at the very least, Scream (2022) gave me hope that it is fully possible to reinvigorate a series that seemed impossible to resuscitate.

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