The fact that 2022’s Scream chose to portray its killers as entitled genre fans run amok was perhaps the most spot-on of its many critiques of the modern entertainment industry, so let’s not fall into the same trap of failing to be grateful when a franchise exceeds expectations: This new Scream really had no business being as good as it ended up being. The scion of Wes Craven’s genre-inverting 1996 original of the same name, the film I’ll henceforth be referring to as Scream 5 managed the nearly impossible feat of integrating its beloved legacy characters (Sidney Prescott, Gale Weathers, Dewey Riley) into a relevant, smartly satirical story that also introduced a worthy cast of newcomers led by Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega’s Sam and Tara Carpenter. In effect, they pulled off a deeply unlikely win, even with a talented team like directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett at the helm.
And guess what? They shouldn’t try to do it again. Refreshing as Scream 5 may have been in comparison with some of the very films it was satirizing, such as David Gordon Green’s instantly stale Halloween retreads, the franchise will only suffer by going the route of “more of the same” sequelization. But given that Scream 6 is already on the way, whether or not that’s really a good idea, what’s to be done? How do you not squander the unlikely momentum that Scream 5 afforded you? Might we suggest you finally and truly commit to the new characters you just established? And the best way to do that is simple: It’s time to finally say goodbye to the few “legacy” characters who remain. Scream 6 should not revolve around Sidney Prescott in any way, shape or form, and Scream 5 actually provides us with a logical base to justify that screenwriting choice.
If Scream 6 truly wants to be proactive in terms of steering where the genre is going, rather than just snidely commenting on where it’s recently been, then this is the route to explore. Leaving behind the “legacy” characters is the one thing that no “requel,” as Scream 5 dubbed them, has had the guts to do, and it’s the most revolutionary avenue available to a film that is set up to invariably be seen as “lesser than” simply by virtue of closely following Scream 5. Producers would no doubt be terrified by the prospect of leaving behind the debris of the past to genuinely embrace the fresh start that Scream 5 served up, but it’s the right decision. It won’t happen, of course, but I’m still going to lay out the case for it just the same.
It’s Sam’s turn to shoulder the burden of inspiring more Ghostface killings.
One of the most impressive things about Scream 5, in retrospect, is the way it builds a case for a Scream 6 without either Sidney or Gale, the two remaining “core” legacy cast members. Most importantly, it begins the process of removing the character of Sidney Prescott from being the heart of this narrative. In every previous Scream, the motivation for the killings can always be traced back to either the original sin of Sidney’s mother, or the hatred/jealousy of the fame that Sidney has subsequently accrued by surviving the killing sprees. Scream 5 finally dispenses with that notion—the killers don’t hate Sidney; rather they revere her legacy in an unhealthy way because she was the “original,” and they feel an unearned sense of ownership over her story as devoted “fans.” The killers of Scream 5 view Sidney as a true threat because she’s SIDNEY PRESCOTT, known IP commodity. Ironically, they overlook the capabilities of both Sam and Tara Carpenter, and are subsequently killed by the very pawns they attempted to exploit because they were instead focused on an infatuation with Sidney, the “original cast member.” Sidney, for the first time in a film in this series, never actually kills anyone. Gale, meanwhile, states her intention not to write about the killers at the end of the film to avoid inflating their notoriety, signaling that she’s also ready to recede from the spotlight of this story.
In this way, Scream 5 signals to us that Sidney knows her time as an avenging angel has finally come to an end. In fact, it was ultimately unnecessary for her to involve herself in this rash of killings in the first place, because for the first time ever she wasn’t the direct inspiration for this rampaging pair of psycho killers, as natural as that assumption would be for her. The burden of responsibility has passed to a new generation, and if something like this starts to happen again, Sidney will be well within her rights to elect not to get involved. Insert her in a Scream 6 cameo, if you must—I want a single scene that shows Sidney learning about the latest murder rash, pausing to think for a moment … and then hanging up the phone to go play with her children instead. She has no friends or family left in Woodsboro; nothing to draw her back yet again. Neve Campbell can say that she’s open to returning all she wants, but it’s time to stop relying on the only two remaining cast members from a film from 1996 to do the heavy lifting.
This of course leads into one obvious question: Can the new characters established in Scream 5 carry their own film? And the answer is that there’s truly no way to know for sure until you give them a chance to do exactly that. Sam, Tara and the Meeks-Martin twins (Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding) are the foundation upon which you’d be building this genuine divergence from the story of Sidney, and we can’t escape the reality that they’ll best be able to do that in a setting unencumbered by the legacy characters.
Tara has a wealth of potential storylines to explore after surviving this ordeal.
This is one of the central problems with “legacy” sequels to begin with, because in a direct comparison within the bounds of a single film, the audience will always be more interested and invested in the original characters, just as the killers of Scream 5 were. Studios respond to this reality by trying to awkwardly juggle and balance old and new in their scripts, when the more radical solution would be to not give the audience a chance to make a direct comparison in the first place—don’t put Sam on screen next to Sidney, where she has no chance of inherently generating more interest. The only way you can force the audience to begin considering the new characters as worthy central protagonists of this story is to let them control the spotlight, not simply steer the plot in the direction of familiar characters who first appeared in that plot 26 years ago.
It’s not as if there isn’t plenty of material to explore for the likes of Sam and Tara in a Scream 6 script, after all. Sam in particular will always be a wild card, with her latent psychosis making her an unreliable narrator and someone that the audience can never fully trust…which makes her more compelling and dangerous than she would be otherwise. Tara, meanwhile, has plenty of room to continue growing into her own, an “opening kill” girl who survived to be promoted to the role of co-lead in another first for the series. Perhaps Scream 6 could see the half-sisters leaving Woodsboro behind, only to find the trail of carnage following them wherever they go. Perhaps Sam’s absent mother has some particularly spicy revelations to share with us all. Perhaps Tara’s resentment for being dragged into all of this will push her to some new apotheosis. It all remains to be seen, but the truth is that Sidney Prescott isn’t needed to tell any of those stories.
The time is ripe for Scream 6 to pioneer a new concept of what it means to make a “legacy sequel,” and take the lead in pushing Hollywood conventions in a more original direction. If any franchise intends to embrace original thinking in this way, let it be Scream—I’d like to think that Wes Craven would suggest the same.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident genre geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more film writing.