Scream 3 is more over-the-top than Scream 1 and 2. Yet at the same time, it’s not. While watching this movie, I’m tempted to think that director Wes Craven has gotten lazy, or that perhaps the script just isn’t as strong as the others. But then other moments I can’t help thinking how a lesser director would have absolutely ruined this third installment or not understood the essence of Scream the same way.
Set two years after the events of Scream 2, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is now in hiding, living anonymously as she still believes a killer is out there looking for her.
She’s not wrong. Scream 3 begins with one of the franchise’s trademark opening sequences featuring the infamous Ghostface killer. This time, Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), the man wrongly accused of murdering Sidney’s mother, Maureen Prescott, is now living in Los Angeles and has his own talk show. He gets a phone call from a mysterious person demanding the whereabouts of Sidney, threatening to murder him and his girlfriend if he refuses to cooperate. Cotton inexplicably doesn’t even budge, so Ghostface ends up killing the couple.
Former love interests, Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) reunite on the set of Stab 3, the new film in the franchise inspired by the Ghostface murders. They’re assisting Detective Mark Kincaid (Patrick Dempsey) as he investigates the new string of killings as well as Sidney’s whereabouts. Although we thought we knew who killed Sidney’s mother, it turns out there may be another piece to the puzzle. Maureen had a secret life prior to marrying Sidney’s father. And our group slowly uncovers the mystery while trying to figure out the killer’s next move.
The first 20 minutes of setup are sloppy and slightly convoluted. Besides a relatively weaker opening scene, the meta premise isn’t as well organized as the previous two films.
Scream 3 tries to establish a pattern associated with its killings. And it’s an interesting one: Ghostface is picking his victims based on the order they get killed in the script for Stab 3. Unfortunately, the Craven and company abandon this idea early on to have the killer “rewrite” the Stab 3 script to fit his now-random selection.
Throughout the story there are a couple scenes and details that don’t make sense. For instance, halfway through the movie, the killer finally finds Sidney in her home. He calls her on the phone from inside her house, but then the scene cuts away and we never see it go anywhere. Weird.
Craven relies on character depth established in the previous two films. We even get a dream sequence, used somewhat as a narrative crutch for development. However, Campbell’s presence on screen is still magnetic as she carries this movie on her back even more so than in Scream 1 and 2.
Just like Scream 2, this film never tries to replicate the formula from either of its predecessors, yet still manages the tonal balance between comedy and horror just as perfectly. What makes the Scream movies so good is that, amidst all the fun, they don’t forget to get dark.
On the other side of the coin, Scream 3 is perhaps just as funny as 1 and 2. Like how Sidney uses pepper spray as her weapon of choice when readying to go up against Ghostface. And there’s a great scene early on in a prop department where the victim being chased keeps picking up fake weapons to use on her killer. But even still, this same scene gives us chills as the woman wanders by rows of Ghostface costumes on racks, and we just know the real killer is buried within them somewhere.
Story-wise, Scream 3 does tend to go all over the place, but Craven does a great job keeping us engaged while thoroughly entertaining us with unique bits–both of the horror and comedy variety. Despite stemming from two solid horror classics, this film never feels unnecessary. We’re given a great closing to the trilogy, presenting a story that’s justified and relevant to its progenitors.