Broadcast Date: 30 June 2015
Director: Jamie Travis
Writers: Jay Beattie, Jill E. Blotevogel, and Dan Dworkin
Cast: Willa Fitzgerald, John Karna, Tracy Middendorf, Amadeus Serafini, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Connor Weil, Jason Wiles, and Carlson Young
Somehow the first eight minutes of “Red Roses” manages to encapsulate everything that works about Scream: The TV Series and everything that doesn’t. Paying homage to the iconic opening of the 1996 film, the scene follows Nina (Bella Thorne) as she brags about humiliating a classmate, gets harassed on her cell phone, and promptly dies at the hands of the new Ghostface. From early press releases, I suspect Wes Craven was meant to direct the episode, but negotiations obviously fell through, leaving Jamie Travis with the thankless task of sucking by comparison.
I’m being harsh. Travis proves himself an effective storyteller, but his approach strikes me as a tad utilitarian for a horror series. Take, for instance, how tightly he frames Nina when she inspects her deserted abode, leaving no room for Ghostface to pop out and scare us. This problem permeates all of “Red Roses” as the camera telegraphs every shocking twist by immediately zooming on the point of interest. The creative minds behind Scream: The TV Series would do well to remember that terror resides in our anticipation of the unknown, not in the gory shots or gratuitously loud musical stings.
Terror also lies in familiarity, our ability to relate to the characters and their predicaments. As such, I question the decision to make our young protagonists so wealthy. I realise the properties in the original Scream (1996) cost a lot more than the screenplay would have us believe, but Nina’s Californian mansion in “Red Roses” feels downright obscene by comparison, with an in-ground pool, adjacent hot tub, and voice-activated outdoors speakers. I can’t tell whether the show runners are re-enacting Drew Barrymore’s death scene in the first movie or its Stab parody in Scream 2 (1997).
Mind you, as one would expect from an MTV drama, Scream: The TV Series does a good job updating the franchise’s motifs for a modern teen audience. Consider the integration of Snapchat and text messaging into Nina’s torment. I mean, who talks on their phone anymore, right? Later, “Red Roses” throws in notions of cyberbullying and bisexuality as we meet our usual suspects, including the outcast (Bex Taylor-Klaus), the jock (Connor Weil), the mysterious newcomer (Amadeus Serafini), and the popular girl struggling with her conscience (Willa Fitzgerald). Each comes off flawed but relatively sympathetic, owing to the strong cast. I want to know more about these characters, particularly Maggie (Tracy Middendorf), the struggling mom who survived a slasher incident of her own twenty years ago.
The only thing missing here is the witty banter. Nina and Ghostface may trade insults on their cells, but their back and forth provides little insight or humour. As it stands, only Noah (John Karna) delivers the sort of self-referential deconstructions we’ve come to expect from the franchise. Unfortunately, with no one else to bounce off, he’s forced to narrate by himself all the themes and back story of Scream: The TV Series. What’s more, “Red Roses” has him rambling on about surviving a party scene (a topic Kevin Williamson covered more eloquently in the source material) when he should be pointing out the challenges inherent to setting up a long-term narrative in the context of a self-contained pilot episode.
In fairness, Noah does broach the topic indirectly by asking how a serialised slasher can keep up the genre’s trademarked body count without burning itself out. This strikes me as a false conundrum, given the writers can always bring in new characters to replace the dead ones. However, I like his solution a lot more: “You need to forget it’s a horror story, that someone might die at every turn. You have to care […] so when they are brutally murdered, it hurts.” In light of this mission statement, I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why Nina’s death occurs in the first eight minutes of “Red Roses”, giving us little opportunity to care about her. You see, Scream: The TV Series has got good ideas. I just wish the show practised what it preaches.
Note: Much has been made of Ghostface’s new mask. Purists should note that the killer draws from an urban legend specific to Lakewood, so the different design makes sense. It’s just kind of ugly.