Strangled by a corrosive self-awareness, the latest “Scream” is a slasher film with a smug, restful face, so enamored of its own mythology that its characters hardly speak of anything else.
This self-referential chatter, disguised as a commentary on the franchise within the franchise, “Stab,” means there’s hardly any line of dialogue that doesn’t land with a wink and nudge. .
“There are certain rules for surviving a ‘Stab’ movie,” Dewey (David Arquette), now a disgraced and overly soaked ex-cop, told the latest group of potential victims. But the acquaintance that was cute in the original Wes Craven image has, over the course of 25 years and three sequels, turned into complacency, leaving James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick’s screenplay so abandoned in the meta that it eerily seems. without intrigue. So Dewey, having suffered a total of nine stab wounds over the course of the series, is now considered an expert by teens seeking his advice when the Ghostface killer once again roams the streets of Woodsboro.
This will force Dewey to sober up, rejoin the force, and reunite with his longtime crush, Gale (Courteney Cox), now a TV presenter in New York City. The eventual reappearance of Sidney (Neve Campbell), perhaps the most traumatized heroine in the slasher canon, completes the original trio. Their return to Woodsboro also fulfills one of the rules of this so-called requel – not quite a remake, and not exactly a sequel – as recited by Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown, currently in the process of bringing it out of the park on Showtime’s “Yellowjackets”), a high school student and the main storyline receptacle for horror movie trivia. What is a requel without inherited characters?
“Scream” might not define itself as a remake, but much of it wallows in callbacks to the founding film. From the ringing of the landline that introduces the opening attack to the painstaking recreation of an infamous character’s house, the film reels in visual and aural reminders. Yet, in crafting a film that seems only meant to appease a passionate fan base, the directors, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (two-thirds of the collective known as Radio Silence), put themselves in a creative corner. They are so busy looking back that they are unable to see a consistent course forward.
Franchises, of course, have always been flattering – it’s in their DNA – but we’ve rarely been so thirsty for fan approval. The result is an image so carelessly drawn, and so crudely photographed, that it traps its cast in a deafening cycle of jaded sarcasm and monotonous slaughter. It makes the touching warmth of Campbell and Arquette’s all too brief appearances seem like imported from a more innocent and serious time.
The formidable Melissa Barrera also operates on another plane as Sam, a fragile returnee from Woodsboro hiding a terrible secret. Sam’s story is little more than a skit, but Barrera, who hypnotized me for weeks on the recent Starz drama “Vida”, begs us to care about her anyway. She is a wonder.
Wearily repetitive and completely fearless, “Scream” primarily teaches us that planting Easter eggs is not a substitute for seeding ideas.
“I’ve seen this movie before,” remarks Sidney at a critical moment. Oh girl, I hear you.
Rated R for stabbing, pricking, slicing and shooting. Duration: 1 hour 54 minutes. In theaters.