Warning: This contains spoilers. To catch up with our Scream Season 2 reviews, click here.
Guess who’s back. Back again. Brandon’s back. Tell a friend. That was where we left off at the end of Scream Season 2, with Kieran in jail after pulling a Billy Loomis and killing everyone in revenge for his girlfriend Piper’s death in Season 1. Totes emosh, amiright?
It actually was, when Emma decided not to kill Kieran as her own act of vengeance, instead shopping him to the police – a rare example of consequence and emotional catharsis in a horror sub-genre that, broadly speaking, prizes bodies over brains. It’s here, in the show’s efforts to transform Emma from a bland, generic Final Girl to someone who, in Season 2, was struggling to deal with trauma and distrust, that Scream the TV series found its strength; the opportunity for character development provided by serial episodes.
How frustrating, then, for the show to undo that within minutes of this two-hour special starting. Not through Kieran being bumped off in his prison cell – he was far from the best thing about the show, especially in Season 2 – but in Emma immediately making eyes at another highly suspicious individual. That’s Alex Whitman, who lives in Shallow Grove Island in the house where Anna Hobbs famously killed her family – and the man having an affair with her mother (Alex’s dad, Reginald) – all the while wearing (you guessed it) a spooky mask.
Hobbs, it turns out, is the reason for the Lakewood survivors’ short holiday: Noah and Stavo, who are now best-selling authors, thanks to their graphic novel about Season 1 and 2’s murders, have been sent by their editor to investigate Anna’s gruesome true crime, in the hope of inspiring another book.
It’s nice to be served up a mystery that doesn’t have anything to do with Brandon James, even if the discovery that Anna wasn’t quite the killer of legend hardly comes as a shock – after all, why bother going to the island, unless our troupe have a chance to play at being the Scooby gang? The ensemble remain as likeable as ever, with the quippy self-aware Noah and the fiercely loyal Audrey still the standouts, but with a film’s running time rather than a full season to play with, the usual attempts at developing the characters and shifting the group’s dynamics don’t work quite so well. In episodic format, any cheesy dialogue or contrived twists were balanced out by the cast’s chemistry; in a one-off outing, there’s less time to get away with it.
And so we see Brooke and Stavo continue their tumultuous romance with the introduction of a young woman from the island, Billie, whom Stavo flirts with to make Brooke jealous (after he thinks she doesn’t want him to go with her to New York, where her college is). Within minutes, though, Billie suffers death by garden shears. So does a friendly local shop assistant, Sid. Neither get a chance to become more than two-dimensional Hobbs fodder, something that places us more in the flimsy cliched world of the slasher movie than Scream’s bizarrely more effective slasher series format. It reflects badly upon the show’s familiar faces too, as their encounters with these new characters leave no noticeable trace. Only Noah, whose creative struggles is put down to survivor’s guilt rather than writer’s block, has any real arc to navigate.
That’s especially obvious when we discover that Alex is the killer: he’s actually called Tom and he stole Alex’s identity (and has been dressing up as Anna) to bump off the young visitors one by one, as he, too, is a survivor and wanted to have a relationship with Emma, because they have both been through the same thing. (As for Anna, she only killed Reginald out of self-defence, because he attacked the family and tried to rape her.) And Noah’s agent, Jeremy, who once seemed like a suspect looking to boost book sales? Yeah, he gets killed too. Which you won’t much care about either.
Some solidly tense set pieces, and the odd bit of gore, result in a diverting but disappointing palette cleanser before we return for Season 3 of the show – and yes, there will be a third season, MTV has already announced. It’s a good job, because if this seasonal special was solely going to determine whether the show would be renewed, it might not have worked at all; rather aptly, this sub-par Halloween outing mainly succeeds at reminding us that Scream the series only really works as an ongoing programme. With a brief final glimpse of Brandon James checking into a Lakewood hotel and a shot of Emma’s dad standing at Kieran’s grave, you can already feel yourself looking forward to what happens next, even if it is for all the wrong reasons. Trick or treat? This is both.
Scream the TV series is available to watch online on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.