We probably should have known that the new “Scream” would never actually justify its existence when there was never even a satisfying reason why it has exactly the same title as the original 1996 film.
“It wouldn’t be ‘Scream’ if it didn’t explore itself fully,” director Tyler Gillett told Empire last year. “That’s the nature of the movies. It understands what it is. And this movie is no different ― it understands what it is, and how it fits in the lineage of ‘Scream’ and in modern horror.”
But actually, “Scream” version 2.0 understands neither what it is nor its place in the franchise or the genre at large. Rather, it’s a foolish knockoff that tries desperately to become a clone of the OG film for a new generation despite not being fresh, smart or even fully coherent at times. Though, again, it’s called “Scream,” it borders more on shrill.
What might be its biggest offense is that it drags the surviving legacy characters down with it. But we’ll get to Sidney Prescott and Gale and Dewey Riley (Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette) a bit later. “Scream” the reboot — or “requel,” as Mindy (Jasmin Savoy-Brown), a stand-in for smart-alecky Randy (Jamie Kennedy) from the ’90s film, tries and fails to explain — focuses on Woodsboro’s newest breed of teenage victims who contend with the delirious wrath of Ghostface.
There’s Tara (Jenna Ortega), who, similar to Drew Barrymore’s Casey in the original movie, kicks off the story with a thrilling prank-call scene and becomes instant prey. Enter her estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barrera), who despite their distant relationship swoops back into town ready to set it ablaze after hearing what happens to her sister. Sam brings along her boyfriend, Richie (Jack Quaid), who has the same obvious-suspect vibes as the good film’s Billy (Skeet Ulrich) but without any actual layers to him.
Rounding out the new cool kids is Amber (Mikey Madison), Tara’s best friend. Wes (Dylan Minnette) is the nice guy. Chad (Mason Gooding) and his girlfriend, Liv (Sonia Ammar), are clearly supposed to be the latest version of happy-go-sloppy couple Tatum (Rose Byrne) and Stu (Matthew Lillard) — that is to say, incredibly fun and seemingly harmless. Mindy is Chad’s sister. Oh, and many of these new folks, as we’re told quite ominously though this is not as important as it is presented, are somehow related to characters in the original.
You’d think that last part would prove intriguing, especially considering how the 1996 movie actually made good use of unseen older characters — like Sidney’s mom, for example — by weaving them into its narrative. But no, the weak facsimile “Scream” often does frustrating things like introduce theories and concepts without giving them any real meaning.
For instance, phrases like “toxic fandom,” “elevated horror” and “Gen Z” are occasionally thrown out of the characters’ mouths and up into the air only to land flat on the ground like little dead quails. These are all interesting things that could certainly be expounded on in the story, just as seamlessly as the original model did, but instead they come off as nothing more than hashtags with no context.
It’s a shame, really, because elevated horror deserves real commentary beyond the “I prefer movies like ‘The Babadook’’’ line in the newer, sillier version of “Scream.” And if this film were half as smart as its characters pretend it is, it would contextualize things like peer pressure, young white male rage and entitlement, as well as the many menacing themes that are hidden in the veneer of suburbia that this film sits on without actually acknowledging.
The trouble is, this dumb and dumberer version of “Scream” seems to think the franchise wasn’t about any of that, but rather a dark, one-dimensional satire about silly teens who watch too many horror movies and mess around with real weapons. At the risk of sounding like Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) when she harangues a clueless Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) in “The Devil Wears Prada” for wearing what she thinks is an unpretentious blue sweater, everything is elevated. You just have to be paying attention.
Put plainly, “Scream” the replica plays itself, in more ways than one, and has a fundamental misunderstanding of its own series. Instead, Gillett and co-director Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, along with screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, go the simpler route. They reincarnate the original, more interesting characters as this emptier new crop and put them through the same ringer — almost beat by beat, down to the prank call-turned-home invasion and the escalating bloodfest that is Act 3, which, like the first film, goes down at Stu’s house.
It’s funny, this “Scream” is as frivolous as “Stab” — the franchise’s consistent film-within-a-film that dramatizes the events of the first movie — looks. Actually, “Stab” is probably a more interesting watch because it understands that the characters it portrays are real people, while this film treats them like little more than avatars.
That’s why Sidney, the original’s final girl, and Gale and Dewey are so integral to the new film. Not only because, by definition, legacy characters can’t be killed, but also because even in the thankless few minutes they appear in this film, they have more texture than each of the new characters. You actually root for them. After a certain point, you begin to not even care about the clunky storyline between the sisters in the new film.
As the Wes Craven-directed ’90s film and “Matrix Resurrections” both understood, there comes a point where you put aside the self-mocking and actually explore and even wrangle a bit with your own core messaging. This “Scream” imitation just doesn’t get it.