I have a confession to make: I’ve never seen Scream 2 or Scream 3. If you think that invalidates my opinion about this fourth entry in the franchise, I won’t begrudge you that opinion. But I look at it like this: since I haven’t seen those earlier films, I’m not bringing the baggage of those movies with me into my experience here, thereby allowing me to look at Scre4m a bit more objectively and measure its merits as a standalone movie. So does Wes Craven’s latest work as a horror film, or is it a bit too meta for its own good? Read on to find out.
This film is all about redefining our expectations for the franchise. After all, it’s been more than ten years since Ghostface last slashed his (or her!) way across theater screens. Ten long years, leaving behind a cinematic landscape littered with horror parodies and countless regurgitations of genre variations we’ve seen a hundred times before. But, as the tagline for Scre4m says, “New decade. New rules.” I’ve got a rule of my own: Any movie in which the characters call attention to being “meta” is probably trying a little too hard.
Because this movie is so overly self-referential, it sacrifices a lot of the fun we’re supposed to be having. The film takes itself way too seriously, attempting to dupe the audience at every turn; it goes so far out of its way to circumvent our assumptions that A) when the killer is finally revealed, it feels like a bit of a cheat, and B) it wears the audience down to the point of abuse, blindsiding our notions of what’s about to happen, and then instantly blindsiding the blindside just to keep us off balance. Nothing ever feels earned. All the scares are cheap jump scares, and Craven seems content with mining recycled content.
Much like the way Boondock Saints II: All Saint’s Day was nearly a carbon copy of its predecessor – even down to featuring some identical scenes – Scre4m feels like an imitation of the original Scream. Just because characters address the fact that similar events are happening in this movie as they did to Sidney back in the first film isn’t quite enough to justify this movie’s existence. As much as it wants to be about progress and reshaping our thoughts moving forward, this movie (and especially its older characters) are all stuck in the past. Sidney (Neve Campbell) has written a best-selling book about moving on with her life, but she can’t resist returning to Woodsboro on the anniversary of the original deaths. From the moment we see her in Scre4m, she’s caught in the past: Rebecca, Sidney’s publicist (played by Alison Brie) asks Sidney what she thinks of a display case in the bookstore window, but Sidney is captivated by a Ghostface mask hanging from a streetlamp nearby. Gale (Courteney Cox), who has stretched Sidney’s trauma into seven books that provide the basis for the Stab movie series within the film, has come down with writer’s block. But as soon as Ghostface returns, Gale perks up at the chance to return to solving the case. “This is what I’m good at,” she tells her husband, the lovable sheriff Dewey (played by Cox’s real-life husband, David Arquette).
Writer Kevin Williamson (who also wrote the original) desperately tries to infuse the story with a modern spin by including multiple opening scenes (one of the only times the “subverting audience expectations” method was actually well-executed) and featuring a character that is constantly broadcasting his every move via a webcam attached to his head. That entire character screams (no pun intended) executive decision, and no – I’m not talking about the Kurt Russell movie. What I mean is that no kid wears a freaking webcam on his head all day long; that kind of broad generalization of “what teens are into” seems like a decision borne from a conference room discussion rather than the writer’s creative muse. The new class – Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, etc. – seem tacked on to give the movie some youthful exuberance, but since they’re just spewing genre tropes and not contributing anything that ever feels important to the story, time spent with them seems like time wasted until we return to Sidney’s exploits on screen.
There are a scant few fun moments in the movie, but they’re spread very thin, crippling the film’s effectiveness as a whole. None of the performances stand out, with perhaps the lone exception of supporting actress Marley Shelton, who adds yet another strange role to her resume. I suppose this is worth seeing for the completionists among you, and fans of the series will see it without regard to any review, but I honestly didn’t find anything interesting about the movie and therefore can’t recommend seeing it. Wes Craven would do better to return to making small confined thrillers like Red Eye than cashing a paycheck for another in this franchise. What’s my favorite scary movie? Tough call, but this one’s nowhere close. Until next time…