A decade later, Craven still can’t improve upon original Scream
When the original Scream slashed up the box office in 1996, it revitalized a genre that had been considered mostly dead through the early part of the ’90s. It was a clever deconstruction of the played-out slasher subgenre that had essentially fallen into self-parody on its own, with director Wes Craven and scripter Kevin Williamson turning an ironic eye to the material and goosing the tired tropes (although Williamson arguably lifted the premise from an obscure slasher parody called There’s Nothing Out There).
Unfortunately, it kicked off a creatively bankrupt wave of horror films with posters that featured rosters of pretend-dead teenagers. By the time we reached Scream 3 in 2000, the American approach to horror was dead and buried. Fortunately, right around that time the Japanese figured out how to make horror scary again, and so here we are.
But at least Scream pointed out the tired tropes to aspiring horror auteurs and cultivated inspired outside-the-box approaches to the material. (And for what it’s worth, Scream 3 was also my first assignment for the News & Review. That movie hella sucked.)
So now, a decade after that, we get Craven and Williamson teaming back up to try and rebottle lightning, or at least pull some more milk from a dead cow. We have the three surviving franchise members (Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette) dropped back into the Woodsboro milieu to see who’s donning the Ghostface gear this time around to stalk-n-slash through a fresh crop of Photoshopped teens.
The guilty party isn’t all that hard to figure out, because one thing that Craven hasn’t been accused of during his career is subtlety. So he compensates by indulging in wheels-within-wheels narrative structure, gratuitously referencing clips of vastly superior horror films.
While it’s better than the previous entry (duh), it brings absolutely nothing new to the table. It updates the tropes to include webcams and Facebook, but the creative minds at work are clearly out of touch with the new wave of horror films. The genre’s ubiquitous sequels to sequels, remakes and reboots are paid lip service here, and Scream 4 readily acknowledges the inherent hypocrisy of indulging in same. Of course, it tries to skirt the issue by framing its internal conflict with awkward but easily digested metahumor aimed directly at the teen demographic. Sadly, it demonstrates that meta without any cleverness, which is deadlier than the tired tropes themselves.
In some ways, Scream 4 is as sad to watch as some middle-aged dude trying to pick up a drunk teenager at a kegger. It just doesn’t feel right.