The new Scream has a gajillion ideas, again, about being a sequel to a mega-successful slasher flick. My mistake: in the film’s own wink-wink terminology, it’s a “requel” – part sequel/part reboot, much like the latest Halloween (2018). One thing’s for sure, no requel to date has been quite this eager to show how aware it is of being one. Large chunks of the script could easily be mistaken for verbatim culls from the pitch meetings.
What if all the personnel on screen – including three survivors from Wes Craven’s 1996 smash of the same name, referred to annoyingly as “the legacy characters” – were to converge and talk, not only about what we expect from a slasher follow-up of this ilk, but who’s likely to die next? There will be running, there will be screaming, and frequent stopping to reiterate the rules of horror for those at the back of the class.
We’ve hardly met a bevy of new cast members before they’re all on finger-pointing alert, following an attack on Tara (Jenna Ortega) which is naturally an identikit home invasion to the one which claimed Drew Barrymore all those years ago. “Ghostface”, the Edvard-Munch-masked killer with his taunting fondness for phoning up with pop quizzes, is back on the prowl, meaning one or more copycats must have descended on picket-fenced Woodsboro to rack up the usual body count.
There are about nine new faces who could be victims or culprits; one or two have good comic timing, but it’s hard to care. Trickier still is distinguishing proceedings in any way from Scream 2 (1997), 3 (2000) or 4 (2011). This one only claims the upper hand because everyone involved has either seen or, indeed, been in those. (It’s slightly better than the fourth, which isn’t saying a lot.) A pair of writers fresh to the franchise labour the point that horror has forked off into other directions lately. Are they in some way threatened by the competition?
Before their chat turns homicidal, Tara admits to her would-be killer that she doesn’t respect slasher flicks, being instead a fan of “elevated horror” such as The Babadook, It Follows or The Witch. The choice of the much-despised epithet “elevated” is meant to have old-school horror-heads egging on her evisceration. She must then name a bunch of earlier-generation characters to the killer, or her sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) will die, which makes her snootiness about genre subdivisions seem especially ill-fated.
If it sounds like Scream is already in danger of disappearing up its own in-jokey fundament, just you wait. The killings themselves are run-of-the-mill, jump-scare assaults staged with minimal invention or flair, which only makes the film’s box of tricks look emptier: there are even quips about how we’ve seen it all before, at which I found myself duly nodding. It gets almost too meta to function. We have indeed seen it all before; we’ve heard of post-modernism before; we’ve even done to death being post-modern about being post-modern, already. Carrying on in this fashion feels like chasing your own tail down the drain.
That legacy trio of Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox are all personable enough that we root for their survival, even though the film doesn’t carve them out much more than showdown cameos. It has picked the obvious fan-service route of making them heroic icons ready for their applause, practically handing out autographs at the Scream convention this whole film is.
Other characters might be christened Wes, or have the surname Carpenter, so we can’t miss the carnival of homage. The film could have spun off in plenty of nutty directions, but it coagulates around a single, remorseless running gag, about the insatiability of horror fans and their fuming critiques of lazy tropes. This stuff usually tickles the right crowd, but the laughs sounded hollow and scattered on this occasion, as if not all the audience was convinced the joke was worth being in on.
Much like The Matrix Resurrections, Scream knowingly foregrounds the idea that it’s a brand being juiced for its final drops of novelty. The trouble is, by now, it’s less bloody pulp than a husk.
18 cert, 114 min. In cinemas from January 14