I am a big wuss. A cry baby. A little girl. I do not like scary movies. It’s not that I don’t like feeling scared, I just don’t like getting tricked into being spooked. The blood, the gore, the idea of a crazed serial killer on the loose–these horror staples don’t bother me. It’s the manufactured jump-out-of-your-seat moments that every horror film is built on that I can do without. You know they’re coming, the music signals it, and when it doesn’t come, you take a breath, then BAM, you’re the idiot two rows up bouncing three feet out of your seat, spilling popcorn all over your date when the killer pops out of the ceiling instead of the closet. Great thanks, you scared me. Not because what I was watching caused me to feel fear, but because you fooled my senses into anticipating something when I least expected it.
So, doing my best to avoid all said moments, I spent a good part of Scream 4 with my eyes closed, looking away from the screen when it was obvious Ghostface was about to pop out and disembowel someone. Once he was on screen, eyes were glued to slit throats and intestines spilling from abdomens!
A lot has been written about the original Scream film and its impact in revitalizing the horror genre. (Bio channels’ “Inside Story: Scream” is a must watch). That was fifteen years ago, and it’s hard to understate the way one movie can impact every subsequent horror film released afterward, even its own sequels. It’s unfair to compare Scream 4 to the original. I listened to “film geek” Dan Silver on Bill Simmons’ BS Report eviscerate Scream 4 because it didn’t live up to his standards set by the original, calling the film “the most disappointing sequel” he’s ever seen. Really?
Scream 4 isn’t really a sequel and isn’t really a reboot; it’s an odd combination of the two: familiar core characters, same mask, hip new cast, back to the original scene of the crime. People who love Scream, often site its ‘meta’ qualities–a movie about movies–self-referential dialogue and inside jokes that horror nerds eat up. Straight-up: enough with the fucking meta shit. The original Scream was so on point, that we should have held a funeral and buried the device because anyone else who uses it just looks like a pandering hack. So, when Scream 4’s plot involves a wrinkle of the killer filming his killings, is that like, triple meta??? ZOMG, my head is going to explode.
I think Kevin Williamson has a really good script here, but he might be trying too hard. The characters almost seem too self-aware and desensitized. I can suspend my disbelief for major plot points like Sidney Prescott’s last stop on her book tour is in her hometown on the anniversary of the original massacre, because you know, it’s a horror film and these things happen, but when Gail and Dewey and the Cinema Club start breaking down the science of horror films and the new “rules” and how they’re going to catch the killer by remembering the sequence of events from the original blah blah blah–I don’t care. What’s the old saying for writers, show don’t tell? Take one scene, the obligatory cops on patrol outside the house set-up: The two officers are hanging out in the car, with the windows down(!?!) talking about movies in which cops always get killed. Naturally, to buck the stereotype, you’d think Williamson would have them live. Instead, he fakes you out with a lame prank, then kills them off with the best death scene in the movie. So, is that supposed to be creative because he did a double 180, where the expected in now the unexpected? [Also a direct line from Macauley’s brother.]
My biggest issue with the movie was the casting. I think Emma Roberts and Hayden Panettiere should have switched rolls. Hayden was great as the spunky best friend, but Emma felt like an inferior actress and her lack of chops really was painful in the third act. It’s like they wanted Kirsten Stewart, but she turned them down so they settled. Also, I’m glad Kirsten Bell only had a cameo a la Drew Barrymore in the original. (Sooo meta bro!) Any more of Bell and I would have probably stabbed myself.
It’s almost too easy to be cynical and jaded and rip this movie. Sure, it pats itself on the back a ton and tries almost too hard to be the anti-Anti horror film, but at the end of the day, it is what it is–a scary movie. This ain’t Hotel Rwanda here, but for whatever reason, people act like it is. What’s so bad about an escapist cheap thrill? Go see the movie. Try and figure out who the killer is and who are the red herrings. Jump out of your seat and cringe. Argue with your friends about whether the motive was enough for you. [Motive: decent. Monologue after the reveal, very satisfying and creepy, because it’s true.]
Originality is one of the hardest qualities to achieve in cinema. Scream was a rare feat. Part of the fun of Scream 4 is that it’s not original and it is at the same time, and I think that’s the point.