The Scream series hits its inevitable “diminishing returns” phase in its third installment, an obvious step down from the first two.
It’s a bit of a shame, too, because there are a few seeds of brilliance here. For one, forcing Sidney to revisit the site of her initial trauma, as reconstructed in a film-within-a-film horror set, facing down her demons in a very literal sense, was a genius touch, and executed to harrowing perfection.
But nothing else here brushes “perfection,” even when it dips its toes in intriguing ideas. Assembling a whole set of doppelgangers of the characters via their fake-actor counterparts is a phenomenally fun idea, but ends up a total flop minus the Parker Posey as fake Courtney Cox bit. Posey rules and has great chemistry with the leads, so it’s too bad she’s almost distractingly funny in a horror movie.
The film hinges its plot on some dark, #MeToo-esque casting couch threads… very creepy, considering the movie was produced by Weinstein, the eye of the Hollywood sexual abuse hurricane. It’s an angle that could have been provocative if told in the right way, but what were the odds Weinstein would let it? The movie gets only partway there in teasing out this thread; it doesn’t condemn the practice and the assaulters as much as it should, and does too much victim-blaming and slut-shaming. (In particular, the movie seems to think that Sidney’s mom having a few sexual partners in her life made her someone of repugnant character. It’s misogynistic and mean-spirited.)
The nuts-and-bolts portion of the slasher is still pretty solid, though lacking a bit of the menace and energy of Scream 1 and Scream 2. Ghostface still pops up and scares the shit out of you following 30-60 seconds of suspense in every set piece. And it still works, almost every time. Craven is a master of this kind of tension. And it’s this that keeps Scream 3 away from outright catastrophe — just tune out the dialog and it’s still a damn fun thriller.
An added wrinkle in the plot here is a voice-changing device that allows Ghostface to impersonate anyone. It’s colossally stupid. For all the ambiguity and mystery the device introduces, it sure feels cheap and fake, especially when it mimics long-dead people. (AI would take another 20 years to be able to do what this machine can supposedly do.)
There’s plenty of other bullshit of mixed but mostly of negative value. A bizarre Carrie Fisher cameo is probably the best “what the hell” moment, and the Jay and Silent Bob cameos are probably the worst, with lots of other meta stuff falling somewhere in between.
Last thought, this one semi-positive: Neve Campbell has never been better in the series as she reckons with her trauma and faces down her past. It feels like she’s doing more acting than the movie deserves, especially as it spends so much time thinking David Arquette’s wet noodle of performance should be the lead for most of the runtime.
Scream 3 isn’t bad outright, in fact the scares and high points are almost enough to redeem it. But it’s pretty underwhelming given the series’ pedigree thus far, and its few interesting ideas can’t outweigh the sense of fatigue and try-hard pseudo-cleverness it carries with it.