Spoiler Warning, just because.
Early and often, Scream 4 reminds us exactly what it thinks it is: A self-aware reboot to a self-aware slasher franchise. Did they mention it was self-aware? However, I take umbrage with the “reboot” moniker. That term was milked dry and beaten to death years ago, and now they’re just applying it to any old conventional sequel, hoping people will brought in by the word alone. They called Fast Five a reboot. They called G.I. Joe Retaliation a reboot. And they called Scream 4 a reboot. But the mere passage of time does not a reboot make.
This is a Sequel – make no mistake – with all the traditional trappings, good and bad (mostly bad) that all horror franchise sequels are burdened with. The usual players are all back, or at least those that have “survived” the series to this point. Wes Craven directs, Neve Campbell stars along with series mainstays and relics of the 90’s David Arquette and Courteney Cox (and is there a hyphen-Arquette on the end of her name? Awkwardly, the couple was in separation during filming, but still playing a couple on-screen). The film begins with the now-traditional opening fake-out murder scene, except now, multiple fake-outs and meta discussions on the current landscape of movie horror are layered on top of each other, in what must have seemed exceptionally clever on the page, but is mostly tiresome on screen. That thread obtrusively weaves itself into the whole rest of the movie.
And that’s the main problem, really. Scream 4 spends more time telling us what is going to happen, and winking at the audience while doing so, than actually giving us anything new or interesting. The film tempts us with empty promises – more gore, a higher body count, more shocking twists, broken rules – and doesn’t deliver on any of them. We’ve seen all this before (and I do mean ALL of this), in earlier entries to this very franchise. Scream 3 tried to bait us by claiming that in a trilogy capper, any rule can be broken, including “the Final Girl survives”. They didn’t break any rules in that entry, and they don’t break any rules in this one either.
The thing is, I almost fell for it. Wes Craven has been pretty good about giving us something groundbreaking every decade or so. Last House on the Left in 1972, Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984, and the first Scream in 1996. I thought perhaps Scream 4 would be his way of sending the franchise out with a memorable bang, and following it up with a new horror franchise soon after, the way New Nightmare passed the torch to Scream. I should have known better. Hollywood wants its bangs to be in the beginning, not the end, and Scream 4 contains enough eye-roll inducing hints at a new trilogy to see what their true intentions were.
There were so many interesting things that could have been done with this film too*. Unfortunately, in trying to deconstruct the slasher rule book, Wes Craven has created a new one for Scream that is far more rigid than any of the ones he pokes fun at.
At a certain point, Neve Campbell dramatically quips, “First rule of reboots: Don’t fuck with the original.” I feel like that’s one rule this “reboot” should have broken.
* While watching this film, and halfway expecting/hoping for some sort of a surprise twist, I came up with the following ideas:
- They ACTUALLY kill Sydney. The trailers for both Scream 3 and 4 tell us this is a possibility, and then don’t have the balls to do it. How about a true nod to Psycho where she is killed off in the first half of the film? Then if they had properly set up the Cox-Arquette duo to be characters we care about, killing off Sydney would give us a sense of actual peril for them.
- One of the killers gets unmasked (and caught) way earlier than expected. The rest of the film becomes a cat and mouse game to find the second killer and discern their motives. Every killer in Scream has had their elaborate plan go off without a hitch until the climax. How interesting would it be to reverse that and cope with a killer who is desperately improvising? It would also give us an interesting Lecter-esque psychological angle with the captured killer toying with the police, giving false leads, refusing to cooperate, etc.
- They actually follow through with the promise of more extreme kills. In the entire Scream franchise, they never managed to top the very first Drew Barrymore kill. The hanging from the tree, the guts, the parents being the ones to find her…. it was utterly horrific, shocking, and made the whole audience feel like no one was safe. I believe it was the cornerstone that made the film work. One scene on par with that, perhaps in the opening for good symmetry – would have made a far more effective first impression than the corny, self-indulgent one they went with.
- We get an ending that, for once, doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat little bow. Maybe we never actually find out the killers’ motives. Or it’s left ambiguous how many killers there actually were. What if the true nature of the killings themselves were left open to interpretation due to Sydney Prescott’s PTSD-rattled mind? If this film were made with a mind to put a final bullet in the head of the Scream franchise, instead of trying to resurrect the dead horse again, they could have done pretty much any far-out ending you can conceive.