Review: ‘X’ (2022), starring Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow and Scott Mescudi

March 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Mia Goth in “X” (Photo by Christopher Moss/A24)

“X” (2022)

Directed by Ti West

Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas in 1979, the horror film “X” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with one Latina and two African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Six people go to a rented farm to make a porn movie, but the elderly spouses who own the farm show their violent disapproval. 

Culture Audience: “X” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of writer/director Ti West and horror flicks that skillfully blend horror with satirical comedy.

Pictured clockwise, from left: Owen Campbell, Brittany Snow, Mia Goth, Scott Mescudi and Jenna Ortega in “X” (Photo by Christopher Moss/A24)

“X” is a horror film that doesn’t break any new ground, but this “slow burn” movie delivers some gruesome terror with touches of social satire that can bring some laughs. Written and directed by horror master Ti West, “X” is sure to count as one of his best movies. Will “X” be considered an iconic classic that influences other horror films? No. However, “X” takes a simple concept that other slasher movies mishandle and makes it something that horror fans can thoroughly enjoy, as long as people can tolerate watching some bloody violence that can be nauseating to some viewers.

“X” had its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. It’s fitting that the movie premiered in Texas, since the story takes place mostly in a rural and unnamed part of Texas. (“X” was actually filmed in New Zealand.) In “X,” the year is 1979, when porn movies made in the U.S. got an “X” rating for adults-only content. Six people in the adult film industry are going on a road trip to an isolated farm that the producer has rented, in order to make a porn film called “The Farmer’s Daughter.” This porn movie is a very low-budget film with only one camera.

The six people on this fateful trip are:

  • Wayne Gilroy (played by Martin Henderson), a brash, fast-talking middle-aged producer whose immediate goal in life is for “The Farmer’s Daughter” to be a blockbuster porn movie—or at least make a fraction of what “Debbie Does Dallas” made, so that Wayne can get out of debt.
  • Maxine Minx (played by Mia Goth), an up-and-coming actress who wants to be as famous as “Wonder Woman” TV star Lynda Carter. Off camera, Maxine (who’s in her 20s) is Wayne’s lover (he left his wife for her), and Wayne has promised to make Maxine a star. Maxine also has a cocaine habit, since she’s seen snorting coke several times in the movie.
  • Bobby-Lynne Parker (played by Brittany Snow), an experienced porn actress in her 30s, who styles her physical appearance like Marilyn Monroe, and who likes to think of herself as the reigning Southern belle of porn.
  • Jackson Hole (played by Scott Mescudi), the porn name of a well-endowed actor in his 30s who is the only male cast member doing the porn scenes in “The Farmer’s Daughter.” Bobby-Lynne and Jackson are also sex partners off-camera, in a “friends with benefits” relationship.
  • RJ Nichols (played by Owen Campbell), the director of “The Farmer’s Daughter.” RJ, who’s in his late 20s, likes to think that the porn movies he directs are cinematic art.
  • Lorraine Day (played by Jenna Ortega), RJ’s girlfriend, a “jack of all trades” crew member who is essentially RJ’s assistant. Lorraine is in her late teens or early 20s and is relatively new to the adult film industry. She’s eager to learn all that she can about filmmaking.

The movie’s opening scene shows viewers that this porn movie shoot will result in a massacre, since police officers arrive at the farm and see several bloody and mutilated dead bodies. The movie circles back to this crime scene at the end of the film. The rest of “X” shows what happened 24 hours earlier, leading up to the massacre.

It takes a while for “X” to get going, since the first half of the movie is about the road trip, arriving at the farm, and filming the sex scenes. The farm is owned by an elderly couple named Howard (played by Stephen Ure), nicknamed Howie, and his wife Pearl (also played by Goth), who have been married to each other for decades. Ure and Goth wear balding hair pieces and prosthetic makeup that give creepy and decrepit physical appearances to Howard and Pearl. Goth gives an absolutely maniacal performance as Pearl, who is much more disturbed and volatile than Howard.

Howard is a cantankerous veteran of World War I and World War II. The first thing that Howard does when he sees Wayne is pull a gun on him, until Wayne reminds Howard that he’s the movie producer who’s renting the farm for a film shoot. Wayne doesn’t tell this farm couple that this film shoot is for a porn movie, but Howard and Pearl inevitably find out because they’re on the property during this film shoot.

Pearl is starved for affection from her husband. When she tries to make amorous advances on Howard, he pushes her away and mentions his heart condition when he says, “You know I can’t. My heart.” Pearl is a former dancer who sees a lot of younger herself in Maxine and instantly fixates on Maxine. Pearl is also a voyeur, so it should come as no surprise that Pearl ends up watching one of the sex scenes that’s being filmed in the barn. And when she finds out that a porn movie is being made on her property, all hell breaks loose.

Before the murder and mayhem begin, “X” makes some sly commentary on how gender affects perceptions and judgments of people’s involvement in porn. This small cast and crew of “The Farmer’s Daughter” are a microcosm of larger issues in the adult film industry: Men are usually in charge and usually make the business decisions. The women are usually expected to follow orders.

Women in adult entertainment also get more of society’s stigma and degradation, compared to men in adult entertainment. A woman is much more likely than a man to be called a “whore” for doing porn. This derogatory name-calling happens in a scene in “X,” even though for “The Farmer’s Daughter” porn movie, a man is just as much of a participant in the sex scenes as the women. There’s a moment in the movie where one of the women flips the proverbial script and makes a decision that greatly upsets one of the men.

And because there are three couples on this trip, their dynamics also represent the types of relationships that can occur in the adult film industry. Wayne and Maxine represent a stereotypical older filmmaker who hooks up with a young actress and tells her a lot of big talk about making her a star. Bobby-Lynne and Jackson are swingers who don’t have any commitment in their relationship and don’t want to be bound by traditional sexual expectations. RJ and Lorraine represent people who are in the porn industry only to get filmmaking experience so that they can move on to mainstream movies.

“X” has the expected sex scenes, but there are also scenes that show the type of camaraderie that can happen during a film production. On their first night after filming scenes from “The Farmer’s Daughter,” the cast and crew hang out and have some drinks together. Bobby-Lynne leads a toast where she says, “Here’s to the perverts who’ve been paying our bills for years!”

After this toast, Bobby-Lynne sings Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” while Jackson plays acoustic guitar. Snow’s performance of “Landslide” is very good and one of the unexpected highlights in this horror film. This laid-back party scene is effective in showing how the people in this group have no idea what’s in store for them.

“X” has a few nods to 1970s horror classics, such as 1974’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and 1978’s “Halloween.” The comparisons to “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” are obvious. In “X,” Blue Oyster Cult’s 1976 song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” song is played during a pivotal scene. Horror aficionados know that “Don’t Fear the Reaper” was also prominently featured in 1978’s “Halloween.”

Even though the first half of “X” doesn’t have any real terror, “X” still manages to keep viewers on edge over what might happen. There’s no real mystery of who the villains are, because this is a slasher flick that clearly forecasts who will be the perpetrators of the violence. Although the ideas in “X” aren’t very original, they’re still filmed in very suspenseful ways. And there’s an interesting twist/reveal toward the end of the film. Ultimately, “X” doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is: a worthy tribute to retro slasher films that makes “X” memorable in its own right.

A24 will release “X” in U.S. cinemas on March 18, 2022. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD is April 14, 2022.

Review: ‘Studio 666’ (2022), starring Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins, Pat Smear, Rami Jaffee, Chris Shiflett and Nate Mendel

February 24, 2022

by Carla Hay

Dave Grohl in “Studio 666” (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films)

“Studio 666” (2022)

Directed by BJ McDonnell

Culture Representation: Taking place in Encino, California, the horror comedy “Studio 666” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: World-famous rock band Foo Fighters temporarily live in a run-down Encino mansion with a sordid history to record their 10th album, and they have many sinister and supernatural encounters.

Culture Audience: “Studio 666” will appeal mainly to people who are Foo Fighters fans and anyone who doesn’t mind watching campy horror flicks, no matter how derivative and disjointed they are.

Pictured clockwise, from left: Nate Mendel, Pat Smear, Rami Jaffee, Chris Shiflett, Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins in “Studio 666” (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films)

“Studio 666” gets bogged down in too many dull horror stereotypes to be consistently campy fun. “Studio 666” will no doubt please people who automatically like anything from Foo Fighters, the Grammy-winning rock band whose members star as themselves in this misfire of a movie. There are Foo Fighters interviews that are funnier than what “Studio 666” fails to accomplish in being an original horror comedy for the band. There’s very little that’s original in “Studio 666,” which has silly jokes that come and go in spurts, just like all the blood and vomit that spew out in this gory movie.

Directed by BJ McDonnell, “Studio 666” was written by Jeff Buhler and Rebecca Hughes, with the screenplay based on a story idea by Foo Fighters lead singer/guitarist Dave Grohl. The movie has a simple concept of the band temporarily living in an abandoned mansion to record Foo Fighters’ 10th album. It isn’t until after they’ve moved in that they find out that the mansion has some dark secrets and is apparently haunted.

It’s yet another haunted house/demon possession movie delivered with very little imagination and intrigue, because everything in the movie just rehashes what hundreds of similar horror movies have already done. “Studio 666” could have been an edgy spoof of the music industry and the process of recording of an album, but the movie just goes down a predictable route of people getting killed off, one by one, in ways that are neither scary nor funny. This movie has practically no jump scares, and the ending drags on for too long. Predictably, the visual effects often look cheap, sloppy and unconvincing.

The opening scene of “Studio 666” shows a murder taking place in a mansion in Encino, California, in 1993. A terrified woman is crawling on the floor with her left leg bloodied and a bone sticking out of the leg. There’s recording equipment and musical instruments in the room. Nearby, the mutilated corpse of a man is on some stairs. The woman screams, “Why? We did everything!” The killer (an unidentified man) then goes in the room and bashes her head in with a weapon.

“Studio 666” then fast-forwards to the present day. Seated at an office conference table are the Foo Fighters band members: frontman Dave Grohl (the band leader), drummer Taylor Hawkins, guitarist Pat Smear, guitarist Chris “Shifty” Shiflett, bass player Nate Mendel and keyboardist Rami Jaffee. (For the purposes of this review, their characters in the movie will be referred to by their first names.)

Also in this meeting is the band’s manager Jeremy Shill (played by Jeff Garlin), who is grumpy and agitated. “Where’s my record?” he asks the band about the Foo Fighters’ 10th album. Dave points to his own head and replies, “It’s all up in here.”

Jeremy tells the band that this album can’t be delayed any longer because he’s heavily in debt and he’s tired of hearing excuses for why they haven’t done the album yet. He says to Dave about these excuses: “It all amounts to frozen shit.” This is what’s supposed to pass as an amusing joke in the movie.

Dave then says that for this album, he doesn’t want to do the same old thing and record at the same old studios. He wants to try something new. And so, Jeremy calls a real-estate colleague named Barb Weems (played by Leslie Grossman), who suggests what she says will be the perfect place for the band to record the album. It should come as no surprise that it’s the same Encino mansion where the murders happened from the movie’s opening scene. (“Studio 666” was filmed on location in Encino.)

When Barb shows the band around the mansion, the house is in a pathetic state, with a dirty swimming pool filled with leaves and other indications that the property has been neglected for a long time. Barb tries to make the house sound more attractive, when she tells the band, “This place has some serious rock and roll pedigree.” She mentions that a famous unnamed music producer used to have a recording studio there, and he used to throw wild parties in the 1970s and 1980s.

Barb then leads them to what she says is the “coolest room in the house.” Of course, it’s the room where the murders took place, but Barb doesn’t tell them this crucial fact. All she will say is that back in the 1990s, a famous band started to record an album in the house, but the group never finished the album because the band members didn’t get along with each other. Don’t expect a real explanation of what happened in that house in 1993, because the “Studio 666” filmmakers didn’t care about having intriguing story for this movie.

When the band and Barb gather in the room where the murders took place, Dave says that he senses a “weird energy” that makes him uncomfortable. He claps his hands together several times. Each time he claps, a grisly scene is shown taking place at the house that the audience can see, but that no one in the movie can see. Ultimately, Dave likes the way the acoustics sound in the room, so he and the rest of the band decide to rent the house to record the album.

Dave is so consumed with finishing the album as soon as possible that he immediately comes up with the idea that everyone in the band should move in the house to record the album. Most of the other band members gripe about it and say that Dave should be the one to tell their families about this decision. Rami, who’s depicted as the band’s oddball ladies’ man, lives with his grandmother. This leads to a not-very-funny joke where Chris tells Rami that he had sex with Rami’s grandmother. Some sex noises are edited in to conjure up this memory, and Rami blurts out: “Stay away from my bubbe!”

Soon after Foo Fighters settle in at the mansion and have their equipment set up, the band’s sound engineer/roadie Krug (played by Kerry King, former guitarist of Slayer) gets electrocuted and dies. It’s one of those “burned to a crisp” deaths—and an indication of more grisly scenes to come. This death was no accident because it was caused by an evil spirit that can shapeshift. Before this electrocution, an entity that looked like black smoke with hands lurks around the equipment, unbeknownst to the people in the house.

Dave then begins having nightmares in repetitive scenes where he seems to be in danger, but then he wakes up and finds out it’s all a dream. He’s also certain that there’s a mysterious man dressed as a house caretaker (played by Marti Matulis), who’s been lurking around the house. No one else seems to see this stranger, which makes it obvious that Dave is going to be the target of something evil. Dave’s nightmarish visions also happen during the day, such as when he’s barbecuing in the backyard, and he sees Krug’s head in the barbecue pit.

And to make matters worse for Dave, he has writer’s block and can’t seem to come up with any new songs. This is an example of the terrible dialogue in the film. Dave exclaims about his inability to concentrate: “My mind is flooded! Sometimes it’s like Prince. Sometimes it’s like Slayer. Sometimes it’s Lawrence fucking Welk.”

Not long after they arrive at the mansion, the band members meet next-door neighbor Samantha (played by Whitney Cummings), who is star-struck, flirtatious and nosy. Dave asks Samantha if she’s seen a man who’s the mansion’s caretaker. She replies, “No, Dave. This house has been empty for years.” Samantha and Rami seem to be attracted to each other, so you know where this is going, of course.

Samantha occasionally stops by for unannounced visits, but Dave thinks that she’s very annoying. As a gift, she brings some lemon bars that she says are frosted with cocaine. Dave says it’s all just a distraction, so he tells Rami to get rid of Samantha. Rami just uses it as an opportunity to let Samantha know that he’s interested in hooking up with her. These scenes could have been hilarious, but they’re just so dimwitted because the dialogue is so lackluster and boring.

Dave soon discovers an old recording studio in the house’s basement. When he plays the reel-to-reel tape, he hears heavy metal music that sounds like wannabe Black Sabbath from the 1970s. And suddenly, he doesn’t have writer’s block anymore and is inspired by what he hears.

Under Dave’s leadership, the band soon adopts this heavier and darker sound. (In real life, Foo Fighters recorded their “Studio 666” soundtrack songs under the name Dream Widow.) There’s no mystery over very what this music is supposed to represent. It isn’t long before Dave’s personality starts changing drastically, and the body count starts piling up.

One of the many ways that “Studio 666” disappoints is how it underuses the talents of the movie’s professional actors. Will Forte has a thankless and uninteresting role as a food delivery person. It’s essentially a cameo, because he’s in the movie for less than 10 minutes.

The character of Samantha is severely underdeveloped and could have been the source of some genuinely off-the-wall or cutting-edge comedy. Instead, Samantha utters mostly forgettable lines, while Cummings just mugs for the camera in this role. Lionel Richie has a brief cameo (less than two minutes) as himself, in one of the movie’s few scenes that can be considered laugh-out-loud funny. Jenna Ortega shows up in a small role toward the end of the movie. The character that she plays in the movie won’t be revealed in this review, but it’s worth mentioning that “Studio 666” is one of three 2022 horror movies that Ortega is in (“Scream” and “X” are the other two), making her quite the “scream queen” of the year.

No one is expecting the Foo Fighters members to be great actors. But for a band that is very charismatic in real life, “Studio 666” presents all of them as characters with cardboard personalities. Grohl and Jaffee are the only true standouts, because they have scenes where they get to show some wackiness that inject a little bit of spark in this tedious horror movie that waters everything down except for the gore. Grohl and Jaffee are also the two band members who look the most comfortable being actors on camera. The rest of the band members are really just bland supporting characters in their own movie and give performances that range from awkwardly stiff to trying too hard.

“Studio 666” is the type of niche horror movie that looks like it should have been released directly to video. Instead, the movie’s first release is in cinemas, but “Studio 666” is not worth seeing for the price of a movie ticket, unless people are die-hard Foo Fighters fans. People who want to see real Foo Fighters entertainment are better off watching a Foo Fighters concert to see what the band does best: Play music and not try to be movie stars in an embarrassing horror flick.

Open Road Films will release “Studio 666” in U.S. cinemas on February 25, 2022.

March 26, 2022 UPDATE: Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins has died at the age of 50. This obituary from the Associated Press has more details.

Review: ‘Scream” (2022), starring Melissa Barrera, Jack Quaid, Jenna Ortega, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette and Marley Shelton

January 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox in “Scream” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Scream” (2022)

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Culture Representation: Taking place mainly in the fictional California city of Woodsboro, the horror film “Scream” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: Ghostface Killer murders start again in Woodsboro, with new characters and familiar franchise characters in a race against time to find out who’s responsible for this killing spree.

Culture Audience: Aside from fans of the “Scream” horror series, “Scream” will appeal mainly to people who like horror movies that combine graphic gore with sarcastic comedy.

Dylan Minnette, Jack Quaid, Melissa Barrera and David Arquette in “Scream” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

The 2022 version of “Scream” proves that the series is running out of fresh new ideas, but the movie’s self-aware snarkiness and effective nods to “Scream” franchise nostalgia make the film mostly watchable. Viewers don’t have to see the previous “Scream” movies to understand or be entertained by 2022’s “Scream,” which is the fifth movie in the series. Because it shares the same title as 1996’s “Scream” (the first movie in the series) the 2022 “Scream” movie’s title does it a disservice because it’s more of a sequel than a reboot.

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, the 2022 version of “Scream” is the first “Scream” movie that wasn’t directed by Wes Craven, the horror filmmaking master who died of a brain tumor in 2015, at the age of 76. The 2022 version of “Scream” also has screenwriters who are new to the “Scream” franchise: James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick. Kevin Williamson—who wrote 1996’s “Scream,” 1997’s “Scream 2” and 2011’s “Scream 4” movies—is an executive producer of 2022’s “Scream.”

The 2022 version of “Scream” follows almost the exact same formula as certain parts of previous “Scream” movies. A group of people in their late teens and early 20s are targeted and gruesomely murdered, one by one, by a serial killer dressed in a black robe, wearing a creepy ghost mask, and usually killing with a large knife. This murderer is named the Ghostface Killer. The end of each “Scream” movie reveals who’s been responsible for the murders.

Unlike most other horror movie series that keep the same villain for each movie in the series, the “Scream” movie series has a different culprit dressed up as the Ghostface Killer in each “Scream” movie. The first “Scream” movie is constantly referred to in the sequels because the Ghostface Killer murder sprees in the sequels are copycat crimes of the original Ghostface Killer murder spree, which took place in the fictional city of Woodsboro, California. The 2000 movie “Scream 3” added a movie-within-a-movie storyline, by creating a fictional horror movie series called “Stab,” which was inspired by what happened in the first “Scream” movie.

Those are some of the basic things that might be helpful to people who watch 2022’s “Scream” without knowing anything about the previous “Scream” films. The people who will enjoy this movie the most are those who’ve seen all of the previous “Scream” movies, although the 1996 “Scream” movie and “Scream 3” are the two most essential previous “Scream” films to watch to understand all of the jokes in 2022’s “Scream.”

The 2022 version of “Scream” begins with the same type of scene that began 1996’s “Scream”: A teenage girl from Woodsboro High School is home alone in Woodsboro when she gets a mysterious call from the Ghostface Killer, who breaks in the home and attacks her. Drew Barrymore’s Casey Becker character famously got killed in that opening scene in the 1996 “Scream” movie.

The outcome is different for the opening scene in 2022’s “Scream.” Tara Carpenter (played by Jenna Ortega), the teenager attacked in the opening scene, survives this attempted murder. Tara, who’s about 16 or 17, lives with her single mother Christine Carpenter, who is never seen in the movie. Tara’s father abandoned the family when Tara was 8 years old. If you consider some of the family secrets that are revealed, Christine’s absence is the “Scream” filmmakers’ lazily convenient way to not have Christine around, because she would have a lot of explaining to do.

The movie gives a vague explanation that Christine has mental-health issues where she frequently goes away for long stretches of time. When the Ghostface Killer calls Tara, he asks for Christine and says that he knows her from group therapy. Tara says that Christine isn’t home and begins to question how well the caller knows Christine. And that’s when the Ghostface Killer starts to taunt Tara by doing things such has force her answer trivia questions about the “Stab” movies.

Christine’s absence still doesn’t explain why the police or hospital officials don’t seem too concerned about finding Christine when her underage child is in a hospital after an attempted murder. It’s one of the sloppy aspects of this movie, which puts a lot more emphasis on making references to previous “Scream” films than filling any plot holes in the 2022 “Scream” story. There are some other preposterous aspects of the movie, but the absence of Christine is the one that’s the least adequately explained.

More characters eventually populate the movie until most of them are killed off by the end. Tara’s circle of friends consists entirely of other Woodsboro High School students. Because so many characters are murdered, it becomes a very easy process of elimination to find out who’s responsible for this killing spree.

And there’s a part of the movie where someone literally lists all the formulaic rules for “Scream”/”Stab” movies, so major clues are purposely dropped in the film. Therefore, this “Scream” movie, although it has plenty of jump scares, isn’t as suspenseful as previous “Scream’ movies when it comes to the solving the mystery of who’s responsible for the killings.

The other characters in the movie include:

  • Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), Tara’s older sister, who lives in Modesto and goes to Woodsboro when she finds out about the attempted murder of Tara.
  • Richie Kirsch (played by Jack Quaid), Sam’s new boyfriend who works with her at a retail store. Sam and Richie, who have known each other for about six months, go to Woodsboro together during this family crisis.
  • Amber Freeman (played by Mikey Madison), Tara’s best friend who made plans to party with Tara at Tara’s house on the night that Tara was attacked.
  • Mindy Meeks-Martin (played by Jasmin Savoy Brown), a member of Tara’s social circle who’s a “Stab” trivia fanatic. Mindy is also the niece of original “Scream” character Randy Meeks (played by Jamie Kennedy), whose fate is shown in “Scream 2.”
  • Chad Meeks-Martin (played by Mason Gooding), Mindy’s twin brother, who is a popular athlete at school.
  • Liv McKenzie (played by Sonia Ammar), Chad’s girlfriend who’s a bit of a wild child. She had a fling with a creep in his 30s named Vince Schneider (played by Kyle Gallner), who later stalks her.
  • Wes Hicks (played by Dylan Minnette), a nice guy who’s often teased by his friends because his mother works in law enforcement.
  • Deputy Judy Hicks (played by Marley Shelton), Wes’ mother who is one of the lead investigators in the murder spree. Deputy Judy Hicks was also a character in “Scream 4.”

In addition to these characters, the 2022 “Scream” features the return of these original “Scream” franchise characters, who’ve been in other “Scream” movies:

  • Sidney Prescott (played by Neve Campbell), the Ghostface Killer’s original target who has appeared in every “Scream” movie leading up this one.
  • Gale Weathers-Riley (played by Courteney Cox), an extremely ambitious TV reporter/book author, whose brash and pushy attitude rubs a lot of people the wrong way.
  • Dewey Riley (played by David Arquette), the goofy and easygoing cop who originally clashed with Gale, but then they fell in love and got married.

Sidney, Gale and Dewey all live far away from Woodsboro, but they are lured back to town when they hear that Ghostface Killer murders are happening again. Sidney, who was a Woodsboro High School student in the first “Scream” movie, is now married to someone named Mark (who’s never seen in the movie) and is the mother of infant twin daughters, who are also never seen in the movie.

Gale and Dewey are now divorced. According to conversations in the movie, their marriage fell apart soon after Gale took a prominent newscasting job in New York City. Dewey didn’t like living in New York, so he left Gale. It’s art somewhat imitating life, because in real life, Cox and Arquette met because of the “Scream” movie, they fell in love, got married, and eventually divorced.

While Gale’s career has been thriving, Dewey’s life and career have been on a downward spiral. When certain characters seek out Dewey to enlist his help in catching the Ghostface Killer, they find him living as an emotionally damaged recluse in a run-down trailer. Once a police sheriff, he eventually confesses that he was asked to leave the police department under circumstance he doesn’t full explain. Dewey has become a drunk, although it’s unclear if his drinking problem began before or after he lost his job.

Dewey is also heartbroken over his divorce from Gale. Meanwhile, Gale shows she has a heart because she’s been devastated by the divorce too. Dewey has a personal reason for investigating Ghostface Killer murders: His younger sister, Tatum Riley (played by Rose McGowan), who was Sidney’s best friend in high school, was killed in the original Ghostface Killer murder spree chronicled in the first “Scream” movie.

The 2022 “Scream” movie balances out a lot of the explicitly violent and bloody murder scenes with self-effacing jokes. There are many references to what sequels, reboots or “requels” (movies that are hybrids of reboots and sequels) should or should not do to please die-hard fans. At one point in the movie, when “Stab” trivia buff Mindy marvels at what has happened to Sam so far and how “Stab” fans would react, Sam asks Mindy sarcastically, “Are you telling me I’m part of fan fucking fiction?”

Mindy, just like her uncle Randy, is the self-appointed authority on clues and patterns in these serial killings. She lists three rules of finding out who’s the serial killer:

  • Never trust the love interest.
  • The killer’s motive is always connected to the past.
  • The main victim has a friend group that’s also targeted by the killer.

Because “Scream” spends so much time pointing out “rules” and “clichés” of horror movie franchises, it takes a little bit of the fun out of trying to guess who’s responsible for the serial killings in this movie. The movie literally tells the audience who the killer is, but even if it didn’t, enough people get killed in this relatively small cast of characters to figure out who’s behind the murder spree long before it’s officially revealed.

“Scream” should please fans who want a movie that’s heavy on nostalgia for beloved franchise characters, but something happens to one of these characters that might get very mixed reactions from fans. Because slasher flicks like “Scream” rely heavily on characters in their teens and 20s getting murdered, this “Scream” movie doesn’t do much with character development for the young characters who aren’t Sam and Tara. The two sisters were estranged for a number of years, for reasons that are explained in the movie. Predictably, Tara and Sam set aside their family friction to join forces to get the Ghostface Killer.

Except for one shocking death in “Scream,” the movie really does stick to the formula that it constantly lampoons. At times, this constant ironic self-referencing wears a little thin and comes across as a little too smug. Some of the violence might be a turnoff for people who are extremely sensitive, very squeamish or easily offended by scenes in movies where knife slashes and blood gushing are depicted to full gory effect. This “Scream” movie has no intention of being as original as the first “Scream” movie, but for horror fans, there’s enough in the 2022 “Scream” to be entertained by classic horror tropes, with the ending inevitably leaving open the probability of a sequel.

Paramount Pictures released “Scream” in U.S. cinemas on January 14, 2022.

Review: ‘The Fallout,’ starring Jenna Ortega, Maddie Ziegler, Niles Fitch, Will Ropp, Shailene Woodley, Julie Bowen and John Ortiz

March 21, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jenna Ortega and Maddie Ziegler in “The Fallout” (Photo by Kristen Correll)

“The Fallout”

Directed by Megan Park

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in California’s Los Angeles County, the dramatic film “The Fallout” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Latino, white and African American) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: After experiencing a devastating school shooting, a teenage girl, her schoolmates and her family have different ways of coping with this tragedy.

Culture Audience: “The Fallout” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in well-acted and realistically written dramas about how a mass murder has psychological effects on survivors, particularly young people.

Jenna Ortega and Maddie Ziegler (Photo by Kristin Correll)

There have been several documentaries about how survivors of school shootings in the U.S. are coping with these tragedies. “The Fallout” is a fictional drama, but the movie achieves a rare balancing act of handling this sensitive subject matter with realistic emotions and above-average acting. What makes the movie also stand out is that it’s not a non-stop barrage of depression. It’s able to convey, with occasional touches of levity, how life can go on for survivors, even if their lives will no longer be the same.

Written and directed by Megan Park, “The Fallout” had its world premiere at the 2021 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival, where it won the top jury prize as the best movie in the narrative feature competition. Writer/director Park, who made her feature-film directorial debut with “The Fallout,” also won the 2021 SXSW Film Festival’s Brightcove Illumination Award, given to a filmmaker on the rise. Park previously directed music videos, such as Billie Eilish’s “Watch.” Eilish’s brother/musical collaborator Finneas O’Connell wrote “The Fallout” musical score.

The beginning of “The Fallout” gives the appearance of being a typical teenage story. The movie’s protagonist Vada Cavell (played by Jenna Ortega, in a standout performance) and her openly gay best friend Nick Feinstein (played by Will Ropp) are driving in Nick’s car to their high school. They live in an unnamed city in California’s Los Angeles County. (The movie was filmed in Los Angeles.)

Vada (pronounced “vay-da”) and Nick appear to be 16 or 17 years old, probably in their third year of high school. If they were in their last year of high school, movies like this would make a point of telling the audiences that these students are high-school seniors because Vada and her classmates would be talking about their plans after they graduate. All of the main characters in the movie come from stable, middle-class homes.

Vada and Nick have the type of comfortable rapport that best friends have with each other, where they discuss things they wouldn’t talk about with just anyone. In their conversation while going to school, Nick and Vada talk about drinking coffee, which leads to Vada mentioning that coffee gives her the urge to defecate. Vada and Nick laugh and say that they should have a code for that bodily function when they talk about it in front of other people.

When Vada and Nick arrive at school, it seems like it’s going to be a normal day. The biggest problem that Vada thinks she’ll have to deal with that day is how to comfort her younger sister Amelia (played by Lumi Pollack), who has texted Vada a “911” emergency alert while Vada is in one of her classrooms. Vada quickly excuses herself from class to go in the hallway and call back Amelia, who attends another school and appears to be about 13 years old. Amelia is hiding by herself in one of her school’s restrooms.

It turns out that Amelia called because she’s surprised and embarrassed that she got her first menstrual period while in school, and she’s confused about how to handle it. Vada mildly scolds Amelia for scaring Vada into thinking it was a real emergency. Vada calms Amelia down and gives her a “big sister pep talk” on what do next. And like any good older sister would do, Vada offers to take Amelia out for a meal after school, so they can talk some more about this milestone in Amelia’s physical growth toward womanhood.

Feeling satisfied that she handled the situation correctly, Vada then goes into the ladies’ restroom. She sees a fellow classmate named Mia Reed (played by Maddie Ziegler) doing her own makeup in the restroom mirror. Based on the way that Vada stares at Mia, Vada is slightly in awe of Mia, who has the look of an Instagram model and a reputation at school for being somewhat of a social media influencer. The other students talk about Mia as if she’s a mysterious and glamorous loner, who gives the impression that she’s more sophisticated than the average student in high school.

Mia comments to Vada: “Photo day,” to explain why she’s doing her makeup instead of being in class. Vada replies before she goes into a stall, “I’ve got to get my shit together.” It’s Vada’s way of saying that she thinks she should pay more attention to her own hair, makeup and wardrobe. When Vada comes out of the stall, she says to Mia as a compliment, “You don’t even need to wear makeup.” And that’s when they both hear gunshots.

During the next six minutes of terror, which are shown from the point of view of the students trapped in this restroom, viewers can hear that people in the school are being killed by a gun. There are screams and cries for help amid the gunshots. This violence is never shown on camera because it doesn’t need to be. It’s a massacre that has occurred all too-often in real life.

Vada and Mia hide in the same bathroom stall together and stand up on the toilet, in case the shooter comes in and looks for feet underneath the stalls. As Mia and Vada clutch each other in horror, someone bursts into the room in the stall next to them. At first, the girls think it’s the shooter, but it’s really a fellow classmate named Quinton Hasland (played by Niles Fitch), who quickly identifies himself.

Mia and Vada tell Quinton that he can hide with them in the same stall. The girls are shocked to see that Quinton’s clothes are covered in blood spatter. He tells them that he hasn’t been shot, but he’s panicking because he witnessed his brother getting shot. Quinton is understandably anguished over the decision to run for his life or stay behind to try to help his brother.

The movie doesn’t show how long Vada, Mia and Quinton were crouched in fear in the bathroom stall. Nor does “The Fallout” show what happened when the police and medical emergency teams arrived. A visual clue later in the movie indicates that eight people died in this massacre.

And “The Fallout” isn’t about what happened to the shooter and why he committed this heinous crime, except to indicate that he was a male student from the school. The shooter is never seen or heard in the movie, although his name is mentioned in one of the movie’s most emotionally powerful scenes. It’s implied that the shooter died at the scene, most likely by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The rest of the film is from Vada’s perspective about how Vada, Mia, Quinton, Nick and Vada’s immediate family (her parents and Amelia) deal with the aftermath of tragedy, including coping with survivor’s guilt. Vada goes into school-appointed counseling with an empathetic therapist named Anna (played by Shailene Woodley), who tries to break down the emotional walls that Vada puts up in their first few sessions together. Vada tries to persuade Anna that she’s doing as well as she can in her recovery.

In her first session with Anna, Vada talks about how she sleeps up to 14 hours a day, but insists (not very convincingly) to Anna that it’s only a few more hours of sleep per day that was part of her normal routine before the shooting. Vada gives this self-evaluation of her personality: “I feel like I’m very good at managing my emotions. I’m very low-key and chill.” Anna patiently advises without sounding judgmental: “It’s really good to show your emotions.”

Despite what Vada told Anna, there are signs that Vada isn’t coping well at all. When Vada is awake in bed, she shivers and twitches in fear. Her excessive sleeping is a sign of depression. And when her parents—Carlos (played by John Ortiz) and Patricia (played by Julie Bowen)—try to talk to Vada about what happened, she shuts them down and tells them that she’s going to be fine. Vada avoids her family by sleeping in her room as much as she can.

During family time together, such as during meals, Amelia talks as if nothing bad really happened, perhaps in a way to try to get things back to normal. But based on Vada’s angry reactions to Amelia’s nonchalant small talk, Vada is offended that Amelia acts oblivious to how this tragedy is affecting Vada. Although Vada doesn’t want to open up to her family about what she’s going through, she doesn’t want them to completely act as if the school shooting didn’t happen either.

Shortly after the massacre, Vada found out that the shooter (whom she didn’t know) had followed Vada on Instagram. It’s a small detail, but how Vada reacts when she finds out is indicative of how she doesn’t like to show many of her emotions on the surface. She expresses some surprise, but then is quick to add that she never knew the guy and never followed him on social media. Her response is to brush it off, but deep down, this information must be disturbing to her.

After the shooting, Mia and Vada begin texting each other and become each other’s confidants. Mia invites Vada over to her house (it’s here that it’s obvious that Mia’s family has more money than Vada’s family), and this invitation leads to Vada going to Mia’s place for regular visits. Both girls are afraid to go back to school, but Mia’s anxiety is more severe, since she tells Vada that she’s afraid to leave her bedroom. Because of Vada’s visits, Mia gets over that fear and the fear of leaving her house.

Mia’s gay fathers, who are successful artists, are away in Japan on business. Mia, who is an only child, keeps in touch with them by phone, but they are never shown in the house with Mia. It’s implied that they leave Mia alone a lot, which is why she’s more independent than most of her teenage peers. But it’s also made her lonely, and it explains why she quickly bonds with Vada. After the school shooting, Mia’s parents grant Mia’s request to not go back to the school and to be homeschooled instead.

Vada is intrigued by Mia because before they became friends, she had a perception of Mia of being somewhat of a “badass,” based on Mia’s dance videos that Vada watches on the Internet. The first time that Mia and Vada hang out together, Vada remarks that in real life, Mia is very different than what Vada expected: “In the videos, you come off as so hard.” Vada is pleasantly surprised at how nice and down-to-earth Mia is when interacting with her. When Vada expresses anxiety about going to the funeral of Quinton’s brother, Mia offers to go to the funeral with Vada.

Because of what they went through together during the school shooting, Mia and Vada feel like they can openly talk to each other about it. During one such conversation, it’s revealed that while Vada’s way of dealing with the trauma is excessive sleeping, Mia’s anxiety has resulted in insomnia. Vada asks Mia, “Did you have the craziest nightmares last night?” Mia replies, “You have to be able to sleep to have nightmares.”

Mia is seemingly more confident than Vada, but Mia has her insecurities too. Mia guzzles wine and liquor and she smokes marijuana to block out whatever emotional pain she’s experiencing. Vada gets caught up in drinking alcohol and smoking weed with Mia.

And there’s a memorable scene in the movie where Vada impulsively tries Ecstasy for the first time when she’s at school. While flying high on Ecstasy, she gets blue ink from a pen all over her face, and she has trouble navigating her way down a flight of stairs. It’s one of the few scenes in “The Fallout” that’s intended to be funny. “The Fallout” infuses this slapstick comedy into the story as a way to show that life after a school shooting isn’t all gloom and doom for the survivors.

However, the movie also authentically shows in a non-judgmental way that drug use is often a coping mechanism for trauma survivors. Not much is shown or discussed about what Mia’s drug/alcohol use was like before the school shooting. But there are definite references to Vada being a good student before the shooting. Her “good girl” image begins to tarnish after the shooting took place when her grades start to slip, and she shows signs of minor delinquency.

Despite her occasional acts of teenage rebellion, there are signs that Vada identifies more with nerd culture. Vada mentions in a therapy session with Anna is that she has a celebrity crush on actor Paul Dano, who usually plays soft-spoken, geeky characters. And in a conversation between Vada and Mia, they ask each other if they prefer Drake as a sex-symbol rapper or when he portrayed a basketball-star-turned-misfit-paraplegic teen in the TV series “Degrassi: The Next Generation.” Mia and Vada both agree they prefer the wheelchair “Degrassi” version of Drake.

Vada’s parents try to do the best that they can to help her cope with the shooting tragedy, but Vada tends to avoid them. Vada’s relationship with her mother Patricia has more tension (Vada describes Patricia as “uptight”) than the relationship that Vada has with her father Carlos. There are also hints that some of this tension is because Vada thinks that Patricia prefers Amelia over Vada.

There’s a scene in the movie that exemplifies this tension. Vada sees Patricia and Amelia joking around together in the kitchen. Amelia and Patricia don’t see Vada though. Vada looks sad and a little jealous as she observes them and then walks away.

And in an earlier scene, Patricia tells Vada: “All I want is what’s best for you. I want to see that sparkle back.” Vada looks insulted by that comment, and then tells Patricia, as a way to hurt her mother emotionally: “You know that Amelia got her period?” Patricia looks surprised and says, “When?” Vada than smugly replies, “Like forever ago. I guess she just didn’t want you to know.”

But Vada is keeping secrets too. She doesn’t tell her family about her friendship with Mia. And as Vada spends more time with Mia, they become closer in a way that indicates that their relationship will become more than a friendship. Vada also expresses a sexual attraction to Quinton. (This isn’t spoiler information because it’s in the movie’s trailer.)

Vada doesn’t define her sexuality in this movie, but at one point in the story, she describes herself as a socially awkward virgin, and she expresses some disdain at the thought of herself having a husband in the future. It’s interesting that the two people who are her possible love interests are also the ones who were hiding with her in the restroom during the school shooting. The movie leaves it open to interpretation if Vada showing a romantic attraction to them after the shooting was a direct result of this shared trauma or if she was already attracted to them anyway.

Meanwhile, Kevin and Vada start to become distant from each other. He’s aware that Vada is spending more time with Mia. But he’s become an anti-gun-violence activist (there are scenes of Kevin doing things that will remind people of the real-life David Hogg), while Vada avoids going to the activist rallies that Kevin now enthusiastically attends. Vada admits to Mia that she feels a little guilty over not doing more to speak out against gun violence. But the movie shows that, just like in real life, not every survivor of a gun shooting is going to become an activist.

Before Vada’s life was turned upside down, she was closest to Kevin, her sister Amelia, her father Carlos and her mother Patricia. After the shooting, the movie shows an emotionally resonant moment that Vada has with each of them, as she comes to terms with how she’s changed since the tragedy and how her relationship with each of them has changed. When Vada has a heart-to-heart talk with her father, she says something that rings true to anyone who’s survived a mass shooting: “I had no idea one guy with a gun could fuck up my life so hard in six minutes.”

What will stick with people who watch “The Fallout” is how the main characters in the story seem like they could be based on real people, thanks to writer/director Park’s terrific handling of this story and the superb acting by the cast members. It’s not an easy thing to do a coming-of-age drama about people affected by a school massacre. And the last five minutes of “The Fallout” is a harrowing example about how “getting back to normal” is something that’s hard to define and even harder to experience.

UPDATE: HBO Max will premiere “The Fallout” on January 27, 2022. Warner Bros. Pictures will release “The Fallout” in cinemas in countries where HBO Max is not available.

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