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'Scream' Review: Series Retreads Old Horror-Film Tricks For New Generation

Kathy Zerbib |
June 30, 2015 | 1:02 p.m. PDT

Senior Entertainment Editor

Bella Thorne as Nina Patterson (MTV)
Bella Thorne as Nina Patterson (MTV)
Halfway through the first episode of MTV's new series "Scream," the show's requisite serial killer expert Noah (John Karna) provides a preemptory review of the network's effort to bring the horror film-franchise to the small screen: "You can't do a slasher movie as a TV series. Slasher movies burn bright and fast. TV needs to stretch things out."

"Scream" opens with social outcast Audrey Jensen (Bex Taylor-Klaus) kissing a girl in a car. Their moment of bliss goes viral after the school's queen bee Nina Patterson (Bella Thorne) posts a video of them online. That same night, Nina and her boyfriend Tyler O'Neill (Anthony Rogers) are murdered in her home. Tyler's corpse is removed from the scene, but Nina's slashed body is found floating in the pool.

From its first few moments, the teen-targeted slasher-TV entry suffers from a lack of character introductions. Nina and Tyler interact shallowly when he drives her home and do not mention each other by name, so that when Nina takes a swim later that night and receives texts from one "Tyler O'Neill," who sends her videos of him in her house, the viewer fails to immediately realize the unnamed guy from the car is Tyler. Why is Nina so at ease about being stalked at close range? The characters' lack of chemistry in their two minutes of screen time provides no context, and answers don't arrive until more than halfway through the series premiere. By then, of course, it's too late.

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The remaining characters are introduced just as ambiguously and oftentimes not named until their second or third appearance onscreen.

Do-gooder Emma Duvall (Willa Fitzgerald) is dating Will Belmont (Conner Weil), but the relationship is falling apart, especially when it's revealed Will slept with Nina, and Emma starts to fall for the new guy in town, Kieran Wilcox (Amadeus Serafini). Unfortunately, Nina's best friend Brooke Maddox (Carlson Young) also has her eye on him, despite an ongoing affair with her teacher Seth Branson (Bobby Campo).

Once Audrey is finally given a proper introduction, the show's shortcomings become more apparent, as she shrugs off the moment of shame. In slasher movies like "Unfriended" and "Carrie" that tackle bullying, victims generally make tragic choices and initiate a chain of murders.

"Scream" (MTV)
"Scream" (MTV)
For Audrey, there is no devastation. Life moves on and she attends Brooke's party several days later, proving she isn't as traumatized as one would expect a character in her position to be. Considering her "public shaming" is the basis for the entire series, it's a letdown. The murders persist, but there's no real connection with Audrey. The kissing video is just an excuse to kick off the action. The characters are connected in other ways, of course, that likely won't come out until much later.

In that way, the set's lavish homes seem to be given more scrutiny in the first episode than the characters themselves.

The series is generally true to the movie franchise -- except for Ghostface's mask being a bit more terrifying than the original -- maintaining the teen slasher-parody theme.

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In the end, Noah's words ring true, but not exactly for the reason he gives. For a show aware that it needs to "stretch things out," "Scream" hasn't done so, using a number of choppy, rushed scenes to shove the plot along. Skimping on character introductions may work in a 110-minute slasher movie, but Nina's character, for instance, begs for more time -- a nod, admittedly, to the untimely demise of Drew Barrymore's Casey in the original film.

It's a disservice to the newcomer actors to rob them of a formal debut. Viewers can't empathize with characters they barely get to know.

From Noah, we know how the story will end for each teen: not well. The success of the show, then, has to be in its characters' appeal.

So far, not so good. But while fans of the original film will find the series a numbing retread, the millennial crowd might well stick around for some mindless, bloody fun.

"Scream" premieres Tuesday, June 30 at 10 p.m. EST/PST on MTV.

Reach Senior Entertainment Editor Kathy Zerbib here. Follow her on Twitter here.



 

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