Scream episode 1 review: Red Roses

MTV's Scream pilot ticks all the boxes without feeling rote or formulaic. It's a witty, twisty, thrill for fans of the original...

I never would have thought I would watch as much MTV as I do. Once upon a time, MTV was a must-watch for music videos, and maybe weird cartoons like Beavis And Butthead or Liquid Television. Other than that, I never really had a lot of engagement with MTV or its programming. Then Teen Wolf came along, and everything seemed to change for the former Music Television. Now they’re producing some great TV, attracting great ratings in their demographic, and killing it on the teen horror front. Teen Wolf wasn’t enough; now the network is reaching into its bag of nasty tricks and unleashing a television adaptation of Scream on the world.

Scream is something of a horror classic, just because it references so many genre classics. It’s the film that took the idea of being meta to its logical conclusion, by making one of the most meta films ever and informing an entire generation of horror films. Wildly successful, Scream spawned multiple sequels of varying quality and inspired a whole new way of looking at films from within films. MTV’s Scream is aimed at the generation who grew up on post-Scream horror films, but it also offers a whole lot of fun for those of us who remember just what a breath of fresh air the original was when it came out in 1996 (almost 20 years ago!).

Less than 15 minutes into the pilot episode of MTV’s small screen adaptation, and it’s already better than Scream 4. We open with a make-out scene between Audrey (Bex Taylor-Klaus) and Rachel (Sosie Bacon) rapidly going viral courtesy of a great faux YouTube website. Shortly thereafter, mean girl Nina (Bella Thorne) returns home after a night of being cruel to others only to get an interesting series of text messages, pictures, and video clips of herself, taken from inside her house, by someone who probably isn’t her ex-boyfriend. Before long, we get our first homage to Wes Craven’s modern horror classic updated for a modern audience. Nina’s getting tormented via texts and videos, with the chirp of an arriving message replacing the ringing of the phone and a hilariously malfunctioning Siri stand-in taking the place of the classic cut phone cord. A shining knife blade, a glimpse at the updated Ghostface mask, and a dead teen in a bikini floating face-down in a bloody pool.

The town of Lakewood isn’t a town without secrets, and the large collection of high schoolers have enough sketchy secrets and tangled motivations that any of the ones we’re introduced to in the first episode could have been the person behind the mask. Was it good girl Emma (Willa Fitzgerald) whose mother Maggie (Tracy Middendorf) was the object of obsession for town serial killer Brandon James 20 years ago? Is it mysterious new kid Kieran (Amadaeus Serafini)? Maybe it’s serial killer fan and high-IQ loner Noah (John Karna)? Bored rich girl and Nina’s right-hand girl Brooke (Carlson Young)? Any of the kids could have been the killer, as they all knew the victim and all have some sort of dark secret or trouble in their past that might cause them to go knife-happy on their friend.

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I have to give a lot of credit to director Jamie Travis for his ability to replicate classic scenes from Scream (the caller in the house, the garage) without it feeling like sheer mimicry. Travis is able to take the familiar and update it, turn it from an homage to an Easter egg hunt for horror fans. It’s all familiar stuff, but it’s done in an updated way to keep it from being a museum of Scream‘s greatest hits. Particularly fun was the show’s use of montages, where Noah would give a speech about how in slasher films this or that happens—basically another Scream meta-moment—over a montage of what he’s discussing actually happening.

It’s amusing, but it’s also witty, because it discusses a horror television show and how it wouldn’t or shouldn’t do a certain thing, then the show actually does the thing. It’s the sort of winking you’d expect from something named after Scream. The characters are stock, but again, that’s what you’d expect with a horror film, and they still have wrinkles that make them slightly different from the norm. In spite of the script being credited to four writers (Jay Beattie, Jill E. Blotevogel, Dan Dworkin, and Jaime Paglia), it hangs together very well and feels appropriate for the subject matter without going too far into being clever for clever’s sake.

With this amount of funny dialogue, clever set-pieces, and solid execution, there’s no way that Scream doesn’t prove to be a hit if it sticks with this formula throughout its first season. It ticks all the boxes you’d want from Scream on TV, without feeling rote or formulaic. It’s twisty enough and witty enough that the kids of the Scream generation should be thrilled to have it coming back every week.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan wasn’t even a huge fan of Scream when it first came out, but he’s a fan of Scream’s little TV sibling. Hopefully it can keep up the pace without getting burned out, or burned alive. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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