Movie Review: Echoes of “Scream”

The studio has been urging viewers not to give away the latest “twist” ending in a long line of such “Oh, he/She/THEY did its” in the “Scream” franchise. As well they should. Nobody should spoil a picture as spoiler-alertable as a “Scream” installment.

But I think I’m on safe ground making one pointed observation about the “requel” (sequel/reboot) “Scream.” The ending sucks.

And it’s not like the movie that precedes that lame, talky, weak-jokey over-the-top violent finale is all that, either. It’s desultory, a rehash of “Scream” story arcs and jokes and tone. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and this latest script is a photocopy of the Kevin Williamson original in a few ways, an inferior updating in others.

But at least the first acts kind of play. They have that “new characters” meet “legacy characters” following the “rules” of a “Scream” movie — called “Stab” in the movie-within-a-movie “meta slasher whodunit” — which get a light updating and recycling this time around.

“Never trust the love interest,” “Never go anywhere alone.” Etc.

It’s great seeing Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette, among others, returning to the franchise (a ghost among them). Campbell may seem like she’s obligated to be here and the faraway look in her eyes suggests Cox is remembering what a very big deal she was in ’96 when the original film came out. And both of them look great for actresses that have lost their action/comic fastballs.

But there’s a lovely Cox/Arquette reunion moment that almost summons up some real emotion. Arquette, in general, comes off the best among the legacy cast — subtle, damaged, shamed into action.

The new characters — most of them related to prior gene lines in the series — include a new “expert” (Jasmin Savoy Brown) who does all the “horror movie explaining” to a designated newbie, the stuff about “requels” and “elevated horror,” the movies much better than “Scream” that include “The Babadook,” “The Witch” and “It Follows.” We hear about “toxic fandom,” the idea that fans demand things that filmmakers kowtow to, “fan service” that can be the undoing of movies like this.

Yes, the new Jamie Lee Curtis “Halloween” ventures are the exception to the rule, and the latest one of those — with pathos, shocks, terror and jolts — is superior to “Scream” in almost every way. It’s no wonder it’s mentioned a few times here. They’re envious.

Other newbies include Melissa Barrera (adequate), as the heroine/victim/bait/villain (you pick) brought back to town after a new “Ghostface” attacks her sister (Jenna Ortega, better). Truth be told, a manic moment here and there doesn’t hide how charisma-starved this pretty young cast is.

The feeling of deja vu, the “What’s your favorite scary movie?” threats from the same-voice (voice box) that Ghostface always has, similar “Ever seen the movie ‘Psycho’?” riffs to tease a possible attack in the bathroom, aren’t sent-up or vamped in a way that let us laugh at the obvious photocopying.

A villain may boast about a killing spree story with “stakes,” but virtually none of the deaths have any heart to them, or wit. They’re just graphic. The frights aren’t original or frightening. Another spoiler alert, beware what’s behind the fridge door you just opened.

The teens and 20somethings show zero emotion for their slaughtered classmates, and toss an equally tone-deaf party of the “Kids Ignore Pandemic” variety.

“Scream” is a movie you want to like out of sentiment. But Wes Craven knew how to make the laughs land and the shocks shock, and the replacement directors don’t.

Even if this “Scream” cleans up at the box office, and who’s to say it won’t, it doesn’t hold a candle or a knife handle to the first two films to come out of this billion dollar idea — that teen horror fans can figure out how to survive a “Scream/Stab” movie simply by calling attention to and mocking the formula for such movies, by playing by “the rules.

This “Scream” mentions the rules only to have characters all but ignore them.

Rating: R (Some Sexual References|Language Throughout|Strong Bloody Violence)

Cast: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Jenna Ortega, Melissa Barrera, Mason Gooding, Kyle Gallner, Mikey Madison, Jack Quaid, Marley Shelton, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sonia Ammar.

Credits: Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, scripted by James Vanderbilt, Guy Busick. A Paramount release.

Running time: 1:54

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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