Strangled by a corrosive self-awareness, the latest Scream is a smug-faced slasher so in love with its own mythology that its characters barely talk about anything else.
This self-referential chatter, disguised as a franchise commentary within the Punch franchise, means there’s hardly a line of dialogue that doesn’t include a wink and a nudge.
“There are certain rules for survival in ‘Stab’,” Dewey (David Arquette), a now-disgraced ex-cop and drunkard, tells the latest group of potential victims. But the knowledge that was cute in Wes Craven’s original picture has morphed into complacency over the course of 25 years and three sequels, leaving the script by James Vanderbilt and Guy Basik so thrown into the meta that it seems strangely plotless. As such, Dewey, having been stabbed in total nine times during the series, is now viewed by teenagers as an expert seeking his advice as the ghost-faced killer once again roams the streets of Woodsboro.
This will require Dewey to sober up, join the forces, and reunite with his longtime love, Gale (Courteny Cox), now a TV presenter in New York. The possible reappearance of Sidney (Neve Campbell), arguably the most traumatized heroine in the slasher canon, rounds out the original trio. Their return to Woodsboro also fits one of the rules of this so-called requel – not quite a remake and not quite a sequel – as quoted by Mindy (Jasmine Savoy Brown, currently kicking him out of the park in Showtime’s The Yellow Jackets). , a high school student and the prime receptacle for a horror movie script. What’s a requel without outdated characters?
Scream may not bill itself as a remake, but much of it is buried in reminders of the seminal film. From the ringing of the landline that represents the initial attack, to the painstaking recreation of one infamous character’s home, the film revels in visual and audio callbacks. However, in developing a film that seems solely to appease ardent fans, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillette (two-thirds of the team known as Radio Silence) are pushing themselves into a creative corner. They are so busy looking back that they are unable to see a coherent path forward.
Franchises, of course, have always been pandering – it’s in their DNA – but rarely has anyone been so hungrily crawling for fan approval. As a result, the picture is so casually drawn and so crudely photographed that its cast is stuck in a deadly cycle of jaded sarcasm and everyday carnage. It makes Campbell’s touching warmth and Arquette’s all-too-brief appearances seem borrowed from more innocent, serious times.
Also on the other side is the stunning Melissa Barrera as Sam, a frail Woodsboro returnee with a terrible secret. Sam’s backstory is nothing more than a sketch, but Barrera, who mesmerized me for weeks on the recent Starz drama ‘Vida’, begs us to take care of her anyway. She is a miracle.
Tediously repetitive and not intimidating at all, The Scream teaches us primarily that tossing Easter eggs is no substitute for seeding ideas.
“I’ve seen this movie before,” Sidney remarks at a critical moment. Oh girl I hear you.
Rated R for piercing, thrusting, cutting and shooting attacks. Duration: 1 hour 54 minutes. In theaters.