Scream 4 would have been a better film if it had been Scream 3. Okay so that’s not the only problem with the belated entry into the Scream franchise. Butit’s definitely one of the bigger issues with a film where the whole doesn’t end up being greater than the sum of its parts.
Scream Re-Invigorated a Stale Genre
It’s hard to over-estimate the impact of Scream when it was released in the mid-1990s. Its self-aware lovingly jabbed at slasher tropes while simultaneously re-invigorating the subgenre for a new generation of horror fans. More generally, Wes Craven gave horror a much needed jolt at a time when general interest was at a low-point. Make a list of memorable horror movies released between 1990 and 1996; it will be a relatively small list. And no, Doctor Giggles does not count. Scream was the rare horror movie that struck a nerve, becoming a crossover hit with traditionally non-genre fans.
Is There a True Horror Film Trilogy?
Released only a year after Scream’s box success, the first sequel managed to catch lightning in a bottle. Craven delivered a largely satisfying follow-up. Most importantly, Scream 2 had a reason to exist, perfectly satirizing the rules of slasher film sequels. Aside from its convoluted plot and hit-or-miss humour, Scream 3’s had no reason to exist outside of profit. While Scream 2 explored the conventions of horror film sequels, Scream 3 claims to satirize the trilogy.
The only problem with this conceit is that there are actually few true trilogies and no actual horror film trilogies. If you define a trilogy as three movies with stand-alone stories connected by an overarching narrative, the list is small. The Lord of the Rings, The Godfather, Star Wars, The Dark Knight, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films – that’s about it. Most Hollywood franchises just endlessly produce sequels until the box office receipts no longer justify it; franchises with only three films are accidental rather than by design or story demands. And there are certainly no true horror film trilogies. The only rules of ongoing horror sequels is a higher body count and increasingly improbable ways of resurrecting the killer. In some cases, you can include the jettisoning of the series to outer space (see Hellraiser, Leprechaun, Friday the 13th).
Horror Was Ripe for a Fresh Scream Film
When Scream 4 was released over a decade after the last sequel, horror had gone through considerable changes. Among these changes was the brief J-horror craze, ‘torture porn‘, and a remake fixation. Don’t forget the proliferation of found footage horror. Horror was ripe for Wes Craven to pick it apart with a new Scream movie. Unlike Scream 3, the fourth film had a reason to exist and plenty of new material and ideas to explore. With its bold tag line,”New Rules”, Craven promised to once again subvert expectations. And Kevin Williamson’s screenplay does set up some clever parallels to the 1996 original that poke fun at Hollywood’s obsession with remaking old horror films.
The major problem of Scream 4 is that it doesn’t go far enough in re-writing its own rules.
The major problem of Scream 4 is that it doesn’t go far enough in re-writing its own rules. By the film’s conclusion, all of the series’ major characters are still alive. What you’re left with is actually kind of just loose remake of the original Scream. The multiple, ‘movie-within-a-movie’s’ fake openings was clever but it also presented a missed opportunity. How subversive would it have been to begin Scream 4 by killing Dewey and Gale Weathers? Imagine if Craven had then opted to kill Sydney Prescott at the halfway point. Instead Craven and Williamson opt for the familiar. The end result is that Scream 4 feels an awful lot like the kind of horror movie it set out to skewer.
Scream 4 Feels Less Rebellious Than The Original
The first Scream poked fun at slasher film conventions while improving upon and breathing new life into them. Craven riffs on ‘torture porn’ films, like Saw, and the newly emerging ‘celebrity-obsessed, selfie generation of social media. However, he seems to have less to say and Williamson’s screenplay never really embraces the commentary. On one hand, Scream 4 is a bloodier affair than its predecessors. Nevertheless, it’s tame compared to ‘New French Extremity‘ or Eli Roth and Rob Zombie-helmed films that defined the 2000’s. Craven’s commentary on our celebrity-starved culture never quite hits the mark either. It almost feels tacked on to the film’s climax.
Scream 4 Is Already Aging Poorly
Another problem seems to be a lack of understanding of how social media works. While cellphones in the original Scream are outdated by today’s standards, it has no impact on the quality of the movie. It’s still as effective and entertaining as it was in 1996. The Ring is nearly 16 years old and centered around outdated technology. But it’s message about media consumption and public fascination with personal tragedy is still poignant. Scream 4 is only seven years old and it has aged considerably less well particularly with its use of technology. There are several movie that have more effectively explored the dark side of our celebrity and social media-infused culture.
None of this is to suggest that Scream 4 is a terrible film. By all accounts, it’s an entertaining slasher movie with several clever ideas and set-pieces. Craven and Williamson are certainly more focused in this Scream entry than what we saw in Scream 3. Unfortunately, Scream 4 never delivers on the promise of its premise or the opportunity to critique a decade of lazy horror film tropes.