Ready for another trip to Woodsboro?
I can’t quite pin down why anyone thought that the world needed a fourth entry in Wes Craven’s Scream franchise, but here we are with Scream 4 repeating the same conceit as the first three films. Certainly slasher series are known to possess impressive life spans that carry them across multiple decades, and few of them break the traditional masked-killer-stalks-teens formula in the name of creativity, but most slashers aren’t Scream and therefore their success isn’t predicated on genre in-jokes and meta commentary. Moreso than the movies it apes, Scream is something of a one-trick pony; it works great the first time, but the effect lessens as the franchise grows. What else could Scream 4 say that the other films haven’t already?
The answer to that question lies in the seed of a conceit steeped in the foibles of modernity; this time around, Ghostface’s rampage gets filtered through the lens of social networking. No longer content with merely wielding knives, the slasher enjoys the benefits of improved and more ubiquitous cellphone technology while also dabbling in the use of web cameras as he carves his way through the teenage element of Woodsboro in an attempt to up-stage the original film. Literally.
Scream 4 doesn’t just play around with updated hardware and gadgetry. In point of fact, and in keeping with the genre critique element of the series, it’s about reboots. Sequels are over, after all– these days it’s much more popular and fashionable to kick start a series back to the first entry and begin anew from scratch using a different cast and different aesthetics to re-imagine the same events of the classics for a contemporary audience. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween…all of the icons have received the reboot treatment in the past decade. Naturally, Wes Craven and Ghostface feel obliged to assert their opinions on the topic, frequently at the end of knife point.
Craven has the right idea here, and starts Scream 4 off on the right foot with an ouroboros of an opener as the film offers a Cliff Notes version of various horror genre debates on sub-genres and the nature of sequels and so on. Before long, things settle into a rhythm as we meet familiar faces from the previous films– Neve Campbell’s survivor girl Sid, Courtney Cox’s anything-for-a-story sensationalist reporter, David Arquette’s best impression of Barney Fife– and as Craven supplements their presence with the introduction of the new alongside the old.
The new includes Jill (Emma Roberts), Sidney’s cousin; Kirby (Hayden Panettiere), Jill’s best friend and horror movie buff; and extraneous pal Olivia (Marielle Jaffe). There’s also Charlie (Rory Culkin), Kirby’s male counterpart and the president of the high school AV club. Eventually, as we become acquainted with the newcomers and share warm returns with the veterans, people start dying, the body count starts racking up, and the same old mystery is afoot once again as Sid and her friends race to discover the person behind the mask this go-round.
Scream 4‘s basic conceit is held up this time by the reboot concept and by the sub-theme of social networking; the first half or so of the picture is very, very watchable despite feeling somewhat (perhaps unavoidably) redundant. The “why” isn’t ever really asked; it’s more the “how”, which lends itself to an amusing and oftentimes cheeky glance at the new way in which horror, as a genre, recycles itself. It’s in the final half of the picture that things start to unravel, largely due to a failure on Craven’s behalf to really go the distance with this overarching idea and taking things to a satisfying conclusion; in a film about reboots, that core question never really receives its proper, complete due.
Which is where this review becomes a tricky beast. It’s hard to write anything of substance about Scream 4‘s last act without spoiling anything valuable, but the above doesn’t make for a particularly gratifying or even effective argument. For anyone who’s seen the film, the aforementioned statement may speak for itself, but that doesn’t do any good for those still in the dark or on the fence. Put as elegantly as I can muster, though, Scream 4 just doesn’t have the gall to do what’s necessary to justify its own existence and– most of all– distinguish itself from the rest of the series. When the film’s focus lies in the process of rebooting a series, there’s something to be said about a denouement that rings as familiar as Scream 4‘s does; I cannot, in good conscience, say any more than that.