Producers: William Sherak, James Vanderbilt and Paul Neinstein Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett Screenwriters: James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick Cast: Melissa Barrera, Kyle Gallner, Mason Gooding, Mikey Madison, Dylan Minnette, Jenna Ortega, Jack Quaid, Marley Shelton, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sonia Ben Ammar, Courteney Cox, David Arquette and Neve Campbell Distributor: Paramount Pictures
We’re told by the marketers that the proper word for the new “Scream”—actually the fifth movie in the venerable slasher franchise—is a “requel,” which means not quite a remake and not simply a sequel. Actually it means that it tries to be both remake and sequel (as well as, obviously, a reboot), and the combination proves to be pretty unstable, often veering into dopiness, grossness or tedium.
It’s also, like the original, “meta”—endlessly self-referential (not only about itself, but the slasher genre as a whole). But, pace Mark Zuckerberg, that’s a term and concept that’s been excruciatingly overused over the past quarter-century, in genre movies as well as everyplace else. While the “meta”-ness of the 1996 “Scream” felt inventive and fresh, after its employment in so many copycat horror flicks (including the three previous “Scream” sequels) along with the broader society, it’s come to be a smug bore, more rote than amusing.
So the script for this “Scream,” by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick begins with a fairly straightforward updating of the opening of the 1996 movie. Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega), alone at home in Woodsboro,, gets a phone call in which an increasingly creepy voice insists that she answer questions about scary movies (she prefers the artier ones, like “The Babadook” and “Hereditary”), concentrating on the “Stab” series that’s the meta version of the “Scream” franchise. If she gets an answer wrong, her friend Amber Freeman (Mikey Madison), who lives in the house where Stu Macher (one of the two killers in the original film, played by Matthew Lillard) will die. She’s eventually attacked by Ghostface, or a new facsimile of him, but survives.
News of the assault brings her older sister Sam (Di Melissa Barrera) back to town, accompanied by her boyfriend Richie Kirsch (Jack Quaid). The girls are the daughters of Billy Loomis, the second original killer (played by Skeet Ulrich), and she’d left Woodsboro to escape the memory. Now returned to protect Tara, she becomes an unwilling observer and potential victim (and just maybe, killer) as Ghostface continues his—or her—massacre of the locals.
The list of targets and suspects is long. There are the teens, all versed in horror-movie topoi and party-going: twins Chad Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding), a handsome jock, and his sister Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown); Wes Hicks (Dylan Minnette), son of Sheriff Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton); or Liv (Sonia Ben Ammar), among others. And adults like Sheriff Hicks and her cops.
And, of course, returnees from the original: Dewey Riley (David Arquette), now a dissipated ex-cop; TV anchorwoman Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), come from New York to cover the killings; and Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who, along with Jamie Lee Curtis from “Halloween,” remains the very symbol of the last girl standing. One can also toss Martha Meeks (Heather Matarazzo) and seedy Vince Schneider (Kyle Gallner) into the mix of potential victims and murderers.
The killings follow with loony regularity, some perpetrated right in the open, apparently without concern that anybody might be around to serve as a witness. One must admit that they’re handled by co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (alumni of one of the “VHS” installments, as well as the dreadful “Devil’s Due” and only comparatively better “Ready or Not”) with technical aplomb: much slashing occurs and much blood spilled, so a viewer’s yearning for gore will be amply rewarded. On the other hand, the constant harping on the “rules” of horror movies gets to be a drag, and the repetitive employment of the hoariest of clichés to provoke audience unease (most notably the old “open door” gimmick, with the expectation that the villain will suddenly be behind it when it’s closed) becomes a yawn when done so frequently (with the “gotcha” music by Brian Tyler sounding whether or not the threat is real). It doesn’t really matter if it was intended as a joke or not; its overuse is still tiresome.
Then there’s the little matter of the resolution. In the first film, the revelation of perpetrators and motives was admittedly ludicrous, but that was a spoof of the clichés in the movies that were being mocked. Here, it’s tied in with a “meta” mania of the picture, and it’s the natural culmination of the movie’s overarching satire on what’s described as a toxically obsessive fandom and their critique of how lax and uninventive the “Stab” franchise has grown. And all the explanatory verbosity is conjoined to yet more bloody, explosive violence that’s seeded with humorous asides but is still pretty gruesome. (Don’t bother to try to parse out how the identity of the killer or killers can be linked up with the crimes we’ve seen happen; that’s a truly hopeless task.)
Pictures like this don’t require great acting, but most of the young cast does well enough with their thin characters (Barrera and Ortega are particularly good), though others (Quaid and Madison) tend to go very broad. Of the returnees, Arquette extracts the most emotion from his part; Campbell and Cox are both stuck with having to smirk their way through some cheesy dialogue. There are a few other old faces (and voices) from the earlier films, too: Shelton, Roger L. Jackson (the voice of Ghostface) and Skeet Ulrich, who reprises his role as Billy Loomis, though in spectral state.
The new “Scream” is technically capable, with a decent production design by Chad Keith, costumes by Emily Gunshor and cinematography by Brett Jutkiewicz, though Michel Aller’s editing sometimes lags and at others seems overly hectic. (At nearly two hours, the movie overstays its welcome.) The team responsible for the splatter effects certainly earned their paychecks.
This reboot will probably satisfy fanatical “Scream” devotees, just as David Gordon Green’s “Halloween” did those of that franchise. But it suggests that there wasn’t much blood left in the carcass Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven left behind years ago, and whatever there was has been drained by this effort. Still, if it brings in a tidy profit, there are always plenty of young actors and actress out there willing to play dead for the camera, and, as this movie makes clear, established performers ready to revisit their previous roles. The only question is whether, if there should be a sequel to the new “Scream,” would it be “Scream 6” or “Scream 2”?