Monday, January 17, 2022

’90s slasher reboot Scream is damn funny, but teenage knife deaths aren’t

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Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox are having fun on their return, but there are too many inside jokes and it all feels a little awkward amid real-life tragedy

The original films combined horror and comedy, giving plum roles to actors like Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette (who all reappear here). They felt fresh and inventive in the way they poked fun at the seriousness of previous, meaner exploitation images. Although too many sequels eventually watered that down Scream brand, the series launched in 1996 was a great success.

Irony and self-parody are taken to the extreme in this reboot of the Scream Slasher film franchise created by writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven in the mid ’90s.

Now the ghost-faced, knife-wielding villain terrorizing the small California town of Woodsboro is back.

For the classic cars, this is clearly a journey through a blood-splattered memory trail. Early on, it’s easy to admire the joke that screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick play on the legacy of the earlier films, while including many updates for a younger, social media-savvy audience. Arquette’s character Dewey is now a gruff retired sheriff. Cox plays the still ambitious journalist Gale Weathers.

The two stars married and divorced in real life after becoming romantically involved on screen as well. Here they are visibly happy to see each other again and to shake the bones of their relationship. Meanwhile, Campbell’s Sidney Prescott is still an object of the killer’s obsession.

When all three are together, the movie plays out like a high school reunion movie, where they can once again enjoy the joys of tussling with a homicidal lunatic. However, it feels awkward to watch such a funny, silly film when London has seen record high levels of teenage-related knife killings.

Right from the start, the tone is tongue-in-cheek. The first victim has a phone conversation with the killer in which they talk about movies. She’s more of a fan of “elevated horror” like the Australian film The Babadook than on those slasher pictures from the 90s, where, as she complains, all the characters had such “weird hair”. The subtleties are over, the blood begins to spurt and gush.

Story-wise, Scream resembles one of those creaky old Agatha Christie adaptations where the villain (or villains) is always hiding somewhere in plain sight. It can be your boyfriend or girlfriend, your next of kin, or the nice person next door. You can’t trust anyone and should always make sure to look behind you.

But unfortunately, the filmmakers assume a far greater knowledge of the original films than most viewers are likely to have. It gets a little annoying that all the characters make so many references to other films. They watch past Ghostface movies on Netflix and keep talking about slasher movie conventions. Lines like “somebody’s gotta save the franchise” don’t help quash disbelief.

An opening voice-over warns viewers that anyone who reveals the ending could end up suffering the same gruesome fate as the teens who get in Ghostface’s way. Not that the finale is particularly awesome. No spoilers required to say this is the usual Grand Guignol style orgy of bloodshed, bullets and flames.

Melissa Barrera is a good value as heroine Sam Carpenter, who has been guarding dark family secrets for years. Jenna Ortega as her younger sister Tara demonstrates a tenacity in the face of extreme danger that Campbell himself must have admired (thankfully the women here are never just the victims – they’re confident and just as violent as the men).

Like the smash hit Spider-Man: No way home, great effort is made to please and flatter die-hard fans of the franchise’s previous films. However, Scream is so full of knowing jokes that any tension or dramatic tension soon dissipates. As the death toll mounts and more of the red stuff gets spilled, the biggest injuries here are still generally self-inflicted: the filmmakers just can’t help but stab themselves in the foot.

Now in cinemas

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