Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette,
Erik Knudsen, Anna Paquin, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere
Rory Culkin, Mary McDonnell, Kristen Bell, Nico Tortorella
When Scream was released fifteen years ago, a new generation of moviegoers were introduced to the way a horror movie should be made. Drawing inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock, Dario Argento and the entire French New Wave, Wes Craven crafted the first in a series of postmodernist takes on the genre. The film’s constant self-references and winks at other horror movies made it both refreshing and old fashioned, it would remain the definitive slasher movie of the late twentieth century. By the time Scream 3 was released, the genre had once again fallen to victim to overwrought plots and excessive gore, yet Craven’s series remained smart and ahead of its time because of its social commentary and obsession with the media’s effect on our lives. It’s not an accident that Scream still manages to be scarier than Saw in all its incarnations and funnier than the Scary Movies made to poke fun of it.
Fast forward eleven years and we get Scream 4, which is actually more of the same. Whether this means a good or bad thing is strictly up to the viewer. Those looking for gore and excessive amounts of movie blood, will get their fix in limited quantities, while those looking for a lesson in cinephile geekiness, disguised as a genre flick, will go home more than satisfied.
The thing with Scream 4 is actually quite simple: you either like it or you don’t. The film feels like a time capsule which chooses to ignore how much horror sensibilities have changed in the past decade. Instead of turning Ghostface into a serial torturer or a demon, it gives us the same old Scooby-Doo mystery the first ones made us crave: who is the killer?
This time around Ghostface has gone on a killing spree to celebrate the anniversary of Maureen Prescott’s gruesome murder fifteen years before. Maureen’s daughter Sidney (Campbell) has become a successful self-help book author and is back in Woodsboro to promote her book and pay tribute to her mother. Sidney seems to have forgotten that whenever she’s happy, Ghostface will strike.
Lucky for her, she still counts with her friends: Sheriff Dewey Riley (Arquette) and his feisty wife Gale (Cox having more fun than anyone else!) who has reluctantly given up journalism to become a small town wife. There’s also a new group of nubile victims in play, including Sidney’s cousin Jill (a simply delicious Roberts), her friends Kirby (a scene stealing Panettiere) and Olivia (Marielle Jaffe). There’s also her ex-boyfriend Trevor (Nico Tortorella) and high-school movie geeks Charlie (Culkin) and Robbie.
The dynamics of this installment are the same as before (although an appearance from Jamie Kennedy to help us understand the new rules would’ve been great...) and Craven seems to be at his best delivering playful scenes in which Ghostface plays with his victims like a cat would with a mouse he’s about eat.
This dynamic between primal fear and comedy is what makes this film so effective. It might be more of the same, sure, but it still manages to feel fresh even when it makes so much fun of how stale the genre has become. In the opening scene there’s a movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie that takes meta out of proportion and turns it into a fascinating look at the Russian doll effect the media has achieved in the last few years.
The movie even comes with a dark message of sorts as Craven deals with the thirst for fame that drives people to do all kinds of crazy things. Scream 4 might be slightly misunderstood because it’s both the joke and the punchline. As much fun as it makes of unnecessary sequels it dignifies itself, in a totally self-aware way, thinking that it’s above them all. To call this film delicate might sound ridiculous, but in a way it is: it tries hard to grasp onto the last remains of a genre it helped refresh and like its scream queens, it seems completely unaware that it’s only a matter of time before they perish as well. As Dewey himself says “one generation's tragedy is the next one's joke.”