Published Apr 14, 2011Back when the original Scream came out, the horror genre was ostensibly a derivative joke, popping up every once in awhile with a ridiculous theatrical release like Leprechaun, Dr. Giggles or Wishmaster, but having little relevance or purpose beyond camp amusement and periphery appeal. Audiences at the time were gravitating towards cerebral, character-driven fare ― bored by the familiar and superficial ― which is what gave a self-conscious and structurally deliberate visceral feast like Scream its appeal.
Of course, now, self-reflexive, playfully analytical fare with concerns for audience expectations is mostly a tired cliché, which is mentioned in the opening scene of Scream 4 when Anna Paquin mocks the film-within-a-film where overly articulate teenagers discuss the rules of the genre. So, where does that leave this sequel and effort at franchise revitalization, given that we're expecting a commentary on the state of horror cinema?
This time out, Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is on a book tour, returning to Woodsboro in an effort to reclaim individual strength and step away from victimization. Dewey (David Arquette) is now a sheriff, with his own deputy (Marley Shelton), and is married to Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), whose career inertia has her desperately seeking a new way to market herself.
Inevitably, the return of Sydney leads to a new rash of Ghostface killings patterned after the original Stab movie ― or in our case, Scream ― giving Gale a purpose and Sydney new cause for self-analysis, as that the victims are the friends of her teenage niece, Jill (Emma Roberts).
What's interesting about Scream 4 is that it consistently refers to itself as a remake rather than a sequel, literally substituting Emma Roberts for Neve Campbell, Hayden Panettiere for Rose McGowan, Rory Culkin for Matthew Lillard and so on. Everything in the film feels exceedingly familiar, taking actual scenarios from the original and playing them out in a slightly different order, with unpredictable results.
In this sense, it captures the playful spirit and pervading anxiety of the original, giving us the usual campy, fast-talking dialogue and abundance of propulsive attack-and-kill sequences, but playing its hand close to the chest. As the audience, we wonder if Panettiere will get killed in a garage door, or if Culkin and Nico Tortorella are the killers, questioning if maybe Emma Roberts will be offed just to mess with us.
But this latest instalment of the Woodsboro slasher franchise isn't just about screwing with expectations; it also has a point for existing that has much to do with the evolution of pop culture in the last 15 years. And in this sense, it sticks to its guns, delivering the same sort of film as the original, right down to the cheesy one-liners and occasional ridiculous scenarios, telling a new generation to go fuck themselves rather than placating their Twitter sensibilities.
It's this ballsy, if obvious, relevance and steadfast refusal to conform that make Scream 4 not only an entertaining cinematic experience, but a piece of work with a purpose that lingers beyond its runtime. If Scream 2 was "meh" and Scream 3 was garbage, this sequel is surely the one adamant fans have been waiting for. It's just hard to say if anyone outside of that box will find any appeal whatsoever. (Alliance)