“Hello Sidney, how’ve you been?”
“New decade. New rules.”
Director: Wes Craven / Writer: Kevin Williamson / Cast: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts, Rory Culkin, Nico Tortorella, Eric Knudsen, Marley Shelton, Adam Brody, Anthony Anderson, Mary McDonnell, Alison Brie, Marielle Jaffe, Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Aimee Teegarden, Roger Jackson.
Body Count: 15
Dire-logue: “You forgot the first rule of a remake – don’t fuck with the original!”
Think of a band you loved when you were younger who since split. Imagine them reforming – you’d be stoked. You’d go and watch them perform and you’d enjoy but there’s something… something just isn’t working for you. The songs are the same, they can still play but they look older, less energetic now.
This is how I found watching Scream 4 earlier today.
Don’t misinterpret the fact that it’s a good film because it is. Very enjoyable for the most part in spite of a slack middle third but perhaps the memories of a time when Sid, Gale and Dewey and indeed I was younger and more fresh faced and sprightly jade the affair to some extent. Argh, screw this stroll down memory lane shit, let’s discuss the film.
Things begin as they always do in the Scream movies: the big pre-credits kill, only this time around Craven and Williamson slap the audience in face with a wet fish in an effectively amusing poke at the imitators who tried to fill the high-budget slasher void in the intervening decade. We’ve all seen those Paquin/Bell stills so without ruining the joke, let’s just say that the Stab movies didn’t end with the ill-fated Stab 3 – they’ve continued and they’ve gotten just a bit silly. Time travel is even brought into the equation.
Sidney Prescott is now a successful writer and is at the end of her tour promoting Out of the Darkness, a sort of self-help bio that brings her to the last stop of promo: Woodsboro. That little piece of suburban California where it all began a decade-and-a-half earlier. Gale and Dewey are married but suffering from the mental strain that small town life puts on their relationship. She’s trying to write fiction, his deputy (Shelton) has a crush on him.
As soon as Sid returns, Ghostface comes too, neatly coinciding with the anniversary of the massacre as he begins offing high school friends of Sid’s cousin, Jill (Roberts). Gale wants to investigate but finds herself marginalised by Dewey and so teams up with school film club geeks Charlie and Robbie, who step into Randy’s shoes for an explanation on how the horror genre has changed since Billy and Stu first used old school rules to their advantage. Add to this, they’re holding a Stab-a-thon party as the kids of Woodsboro modern hold the films in Rocky Horror-like esteem. Can only lead to trouble, methinks!
Scream 4‘s big mickey take targets remakes, reboots, rehashes, re-imaginings – whatever you want to call them. The rules have flipped, horror now looks to do the opposite of what came before so much is made out of the Saw movies (one girl quips that torture porn is shit and features no character development), and any number of remade films are name checked and the industry criticised for not being interested in anything that isn’t a remake or reboot of some kind.
So are we dealing with a reboot here? Well, yes and no. It’s still a slasher movie so certain rules can’t be bargained with and, despite them protesting otherwise, some of the “knowledgeable” teen characters still saunter off and investigate strange sounds, call out “who’s there?” and make all the standard body count pic mistakes.
The main bulk of Scream 4 plays out mechanically: spooky call >>> stupid behaviour >>> killer appears. Though it’s worth noting that all the characters toyed with in this vein are female. In fact, this is the first Scream film where girl victims outnumber the boys, who are killed almost apologetically without much of a build up.
However, mechanics of another kind aid the film’s step into the 21st Century: now the kids can talk about Twitter, information is spread via text, IM’s, there’s a Ghostface voice-app for the iPhones they all seem to possess, and according to the film nerds, the killer’s logical step towards innovation is to film the murders. Weird to think back to Gale’s breezeblock sized cell phone in the first one!
Thankfully, as I started to question what the fuck they were playing at with such a flat opus, a neat twist is pulled out of the bag concerning the killer’s identity and their always-exposited-at-length motive, which stacks up well with the film’s acerbic prod’s at celeb culture – I feel like Lily Allen’s “The Fear” should’ve been playing in the background. The film doesn’t so much offer up red herrings (apart from a really obvious push towards our suspecting a probable loon early on) as the cast is so dominated by women that it’s difficult to work out which one of them (if any) it could be. However, the climax seems to borrow back a big chunk of unbelievable camp from Scary Movie – but it was funny as hell and had the audience clapping.
Neve Campbell delivers here, thankfully looking more interested than she was in Scream 3 and Panettiere impresses as girl geek Kirby. Curiously, it’s Arquette and Cox who seem most out of place. Gale’s plotline of trying to get back to her old self (a metaphor for the whole production, perhaps?) doesn’t really go anywhere and Dewey hardly seems to be involved at all and looks only tired rather than his perky, parable-spouting self from the other films. But why a rather mannequin-styled Mary McDonnell was wasted in such a crappy role is a weird one.
I’m likely to make some amendments to this review when I take a second look at the film. The first go-round with a big deal of a film is always problematised by expectations, especially when dealing with Scream or a film I’ve been holding out for for some time but at present, I’m satisfied but at the same time I learned that, as the Carpenters once sang, trying to get that feeling again is a non-starter. We’re all older and so the teen culture we knew has shifted at some points beyond our comprehension. Take the bits you can and remain bewildered at the rest, y’know, like when you made your parents watch the first Scream.
Scream‘s 5 and 6? I dunno if the band could do another comeback tour…
Blurbs-of-interest: Emma Roberts was the lead in Scream Queens and American Horror Story: 1984; Anthony Anderson (another actor under-used) was in Urban Legends: Final Cut. Arquette directed and featured in The Tripper (with a cameo from Cox); Marley Shelton was in Valentine. All four survivors returned for Scream (2022).