The "Scream" franchise is back. In other words, "New killer. Who dis?"
The opening scene of the "requel" will be familiar to fans of the same-titled "Scream" from 1996: A black screen. A phone rings. The young woman who answers gets sucked into a conversation about horror movies. This one praises elevated horror such as "The Babadook" because it's "not just some shlocky cheeseball nonsense with wall-to-wall jump scares," which is one way to describe the very movie she's in.
That scene, which re-creates notes from Drew Barrymore's opening sequence in the original, establishes — actually, re-establishes — the "Scream" territory. We're watching a horror movie that is aware it's a horror movie and that wants to make fun of the horror movie conventions it pretends it hates but actually embraces. Just a tip: If a character in a "Scream" announces the rules for scary movies, it would be wise to pay attention to them because they are as carved-in-stone as the grave markers that the movie's fresh-faced characters will be buried under soon.
It's specific territory for a movie to occupy, which means you shouldn't expect too many surprises this "Scream" around. I was half-hoping the new one, directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, would find a way to mess with what horror fans want, but it doesn't. Instead, it goes harder on gore than most films in the franchise have. And it's not as funny.
The "Scream" movies always have been eager to lampoon their own foolishness. The new one follows suit but misses the boat in some scenes. When one major character gets stabbed in the gut, why doesn't the friend immediately call 911? When a character is pursued through a hospital, why are all the lights turned off and the hallways deserted? Come to think of it, maybe that 911 call wouldn't have done much good anyway.
This "Scream" does, however, deliver on the twists we demand. I was pretty sure I knew exactly what was really happening a few times, which is the same as saying I never knew what was really happening. We're back in the fictional town of Woodsboro, Calif., with a new group of teenagers who gab about horror movies and get thrill-killed by a murderer. The killer claims to be carving out a new homicidal path but wears the same Ghostface mask that "Scream" killers have always leaned toward.
I like most of the new actors, particularly "Better Things" co-star Mikey Madison, whose overacting is very entertaining. And, eventually, folks from the original "Scream" involve themselves, including skittish Sidney (Neve Campbell), brash Gale (Courteney Cox) and puppyish Dewey (David Arquette), all of whom would have been wise to keep out of the new carnage.
None of this is game-changing, but that's probably not what fans of the franchise want. The new movie understands the appeal of the old ones and, within that, offers a few compelling variations on a scream.
**1/2 out of 4 stars
Rated: R for bloody violence, strong language, drinking and smoking.
Where: Area theaters.