Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s Scream may not have created the meta horror movie in 1996, but it most certainly defined it. In the years since, we’ve seen the genre changed forever, as well as three sequels and a litany of mostly irritating imitators. Now, MTV has adopted and adapted the formula for a new teen audience, and this time watching Prom Night won’t save you.
The affluent ’burb of Lakewood is rocked when popular mean girl Nina Patterson (Bella Thorne) is brutally murdered. Signs point to local bogeyman Brandon James, a notorious serial killer who may have more ties to our good-hearted heroine Emma (Willa Fitzgerald) than she knows. As secret videos go viral, old secrets are unearthed and the bodies stack up, can Emma and her friends stay alive long enough to figure out who’s behind the mask?
The first episode of Scream gets self-referencing early, with a Casey Becker-esque murder sequence and a long chat about how a slasher TV show would never work. Emma is very much our new Sidney Prescott, and there’s a decent Randy Meeks cipher in John Karnah’s monologue-machine Noah Foster. But Noah’s regular referential riffing is about as smart as Scream gets.
As the killer plot plods along (the culprit is guessable from their first appearance), it’s as if no one spotted that the film’s intelligence didn’t begin and end with “You should never say ‘I’ll be right back!’” Instead, melodrama takes priority as too much time is spent with the mostly unlikeable and/or dull characters moping around and engaging in unconvincing real and emotional blackmail, and Noah only occasionally remembers to make a horror movie joke (hey, The Babadook!). The performances are spotty, though Fitzgerald shows promise, and The Killing’s Bex Taylor-Klaus shines as the tough Audrey.
There are one or two gory and well-mounted horror sequences, some smart lines, intermittently sharp commentary on online bullying, but Scream: The TV Series is a mostly dull and frustrating experience. Maybe things will pick up in the already-confirmed Season 2.