The film critic is sitting there at his desk, right? And he's thinking about the movie he just watched, the super-self-conscious installment of an old horror flick franchise, having launched another watered-down, indistinguishable reboot of itself (though in the movie, they keep calling it a "requel," which is a word the film critic even hates to have to type out).
So, for this review, the critic needs to open with something, a "lede" that's designed to engage the reader into reading the whole piece. He thinks about it some, and then he writes about the prologue -- which apes the famous opening scene in the original, far more amusing, 1996 movie -- where a pretty young protagonist, in this case, named Tara (Jenna Ortega), is home alone, and suddenly gets a phone call from a mysterious stranger, who threatens to kill her, but first wants to talk about her favorite horror movies.
To the critic, this is actually the cleverest moment in the film, because while all the menacing stranger wants to talk about are the awful-looking "Stab" movies (which are, in this endless schlocky ouroboros, the junky fictional movies about the "real" events of the totally fictional "Scream" movies), smart girl Tara instead wants to talk about the more recent wave of "elevated horror" movies (name dropping "The Babadook," "The Witch" and "Hereditary" in the process). For a brief minute, the two have a debate, with the threatening stranger trying to make a case for his beloved idiotic, completely formulaic slashers, versus her vastly more affecting and potent selections ("too arty," the stranger sniffs).
This is an amusing moment, for sure, one of the few where filmmakers Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are able to conjure some of the self-aware cleverness of the original film, but very shortly thereafter, the stranger actually appears in Tara's house, somehow, and makes with the stabby-stabby, and then the film critic and everyone in the audience (some of whom are way happier about this than others) have to acknowledge they are totally locked into another one of these bloody "Scream" movies.
These movies always involve a group of good-looking teenagers -- in this case, Tara's close friends, all of whom have to be considered suspects by the audience, and her long-estranged sister, Sam (Melissa Barrera), who immediately returns to Woodsboro, along with her boyfriend, Richie (Jack Quaid, whom the film critic likes way more in the Amazon series "The Boys," for what it's worth) when she hears the awful news about her kid sister.
Normally, this is the place in the review where film critics sigh, and grit their teeth, and try to spool out a plot summary that gives enough of the vibe of a film for it to make sense, while being really careful not to give too much of anything away, for fear of being accused of revealing spoilers. But, here, this particular film critic is all "Do I even need to explain the plot details, since they're almost totally the same as all the other films in the franchise?" but then he figures he'd better at least mention that the filmmakers work hard to re-insert the famous trio from the first batch of movies -- those being regular series heroine Sidney (Neve Campbell), former jerk-journalist-turned-sympathetic-protagonist Gale (Courteney Cox), and the lovably messy Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette), which, of course, in a meta-meta-meta element that original screenwriter Kevin Williamson (who saw fit to pass the baton off to a couple of young writers this time around) could only dream about, has actual former married couple Cox and Arquette reunite and speak regretfully of losing their past relationship -- anyway, yes, those "legacy" characters, as one of Tara's knowledgeable friends puts it, who get figured into the plot just as the body count begins to pile up.
So, after the plot summary, which this wily film critic has just seen fit to bypass for the most part -- scary Ghostface reappears, kills lots of people really graphically, and everyone who isn't killed is a suspect until at last, those who remain alive end up back in the original house, and it all comes down to a bloody climax where Ghostface is finally revealed -- here is where the aforementioned critic takes off his cardigan sweater (or the equivalent), cracks his knuckles, and begins to appraise the film a little more directly, pointing out what he thinks is super-trite and/or tired out in the movie (wafer-thin character development, clunky dialogue, an attempt to turn the film into such a creaking repository of meta concepts -- "How can fandom be toxic?" the killer eventually asks, shortly before the end -- that it collapses like a house of dried pine needles).
But there's more not to like, the critic notes, despite its vapidness, and dull repetition, and the cynical cash grab attempt by the movie studio to scrape every last molecule of pumpkin out of the now-ancient can, there's also the sizable difference in general zeitgeist now. In a world where all too real high school massacres happen with soul-deadening frequency, and teens' worlds have become a cavalcade of endless social media demands and forced pandemic isolation, there isn't a lot of fun to be had watching them get brutally butchered (even the more annoying ones). It feels like overkill, actually, which the critic found both depressing and irritating. Watching the moribund tableaus of Ghostface's meticulously crafted kill-scenes (always coming and going at the perfect moment without being noticed, withstanding ungodly amounts of punishment as the teens fight back, and able to kill as quickly and efficiently as a highly trained assassin) simply gets more and more annoying.
Of course, the critic has to acknowledge, grudgingly, he's not the target audience for such a film -- that audience, naturally, includes the very teens that the film tries so hard to represent before having Ghostface graphically dispatch them (though the critic must here make a note about how hardy many of these kids seem to be, withstanding multiple, frantic stabbings and somehow making it through to the end credits anyway) -- but still, it's pretty clear with that whole "elevated horror" bit in the beginning, that the filmmakers themselves are acknowledging this is all, at best, pretty thin and disposable gruel from which to fashion a narrative (the films' own characters correctly calling it "derivative"), and, at worst, dangerously regressive, and tone deaf as to the era we are all enduring at the moment.
Finally, the critic has to wrap everything up in a way that sums up his feelings succinctly, giving the reader an overall sense of things, while writing a memorable epitaph. And, maybe, if that critic is really feeling his oats, he can subtly hearken back to their original lede, and sneak in another reference to it, to give the whole piece a sense of having come full circle. Having done all that, at last, the critic can close down their computer, take his various meds, brush his teeth, pop out his contacts, and go to bed, where his can work on a Times' crossword from several months ago, until sleep thankfully comes to claim him.
80 Cast: Melissa Barrera, Kyle Gallner, Mason Gooding, Mikey Madison, Dylan Minnette, Jenna Ortega, Jack Quaid, Marley Shelton, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sonia Ammar, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Neve Campbell
Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Rating: R, for strong bloody violence, language throughout and some sexual references
Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes