*. The original Scream (1996) was a bit of a game-changer in the horror genre, with its air self-awareness and drift into dark comedy. But like all such films, once the game changed that original success became hard to duplicate. Think of Quentin Tarantino post-Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. With the successful formula easily (and nearly immediately) being parodied, all that Scream could do was fall into the same franchise rut it was busy mocking, repeating the original premise to diminishing returns.
*. This latest version of Scream is stuck with much the same problem. Where the formula gets some help is in the way the world itself has changed. “Elevated horror” is now a thing, as is the phenomenon of toxic fan culture. And phones are used to send scary text messages as much as to talk into.
*. By the way, here’s a quick aside on that last point: though they’re used a lot, text messages can be hard to read on a small screen. And since that is the way a lot of movies are being watched these days, even on phones, the problem can get quite pronounced. How do you read a text message in a movie you’re already watching on a tablet or phone?
*. In any event, I thought this Scream was at least an honest attempt to channel the spirit of the original, and should satisfy the likes of the Stab fangirl who explains the nature of a “requel” to the assembled cast in a homage to the laying out of the “rules” in the first film. It’s a reasonably bright script that plays the same tricks with regard to the identity of the killer(s) as were done throughout the tetralogy. I didn’t think the ending was a big surprise or twist, but there’s only so much that can be done in this regard.
*. Unfortunately, the back story has now become as involved as the different strands of the MCU and I found it not worth sorting out. All of the next-generation family connections — the hero here is Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), the illegitimate daughter of Billy Loomis, who shows up as a sort of guardian spirit — were just confusing. At least to me. But then I’m probably not a true fan. I didn’t even need to see Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and David Arquette again. They’re awkwardly introduced and seem out of place.
*. The bigger let-down though is that co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who did V/H/S, Southbound, and Ready or Not, really feel off their game. This isn’t a scary movie at all. In fact, it’s dull. Even the jump scares, or the idea of jump scares, are just running gags. Example one being the business with fridge doors. The kills, meanwhile, are of the perfunctory kind that litter the screen in the later Halloween entries. They’re really not good. And some clichés were in need some kind of acknowledgement. Like why is that hospital so deserted? I know that’s part of the formula, but as such I thought it was a joke that was missing a punchline.
*. In the end, I guess I felt they did all they could with a new entry to a franchise: maintaining continuity and keeping faith with the rest of the series. And it’s not even a requel but a direct sequel, as critics/fan boys were quick to point out. But as every franchise eventually learns, there’s only so much you can do with the same characters and set-up before you run out of gas and you’re just left going through the motions. Twenty or thirty years down the road, you can’t go home again.