By Jason Marsiglia
I take a certain level of delight in the coincidence of Scream 4 opening on April 15th. Tax Day. You’re either going to be rewarded by the government…or they pass you the bill. Director Wes Craven, returning screenwriter Kevin Williamson and the surviving cast of the original Scream trilogy are back after 11 years, and they’re “calling us out”, so to speak. Taxing us, or rather, the “newest breed” of horror fan, who knows little past the onslaught of remakes and reboots we’ve been fed. You can either get your “Federal Refund” from Scream 4 and enjoy it for what it is. Or you can foot the bill at $10+ a ticket for a movie you probably decided you weren’t going to like before you drove to the theater. Us horror fans are a rare breed. We’re either lenient and easy to please, or we’re “snob” elitists who take pleasure in watching horror films for the sole purpose of poking holes in logic, character development, repetition and unoriginality.
For those of you who fall in the latter category, hey…this one’s for you.
With quite possibly the most inspired (and hilarious) opening since the original film, Scream 4 launches into an immediate and precise attack on sequels, remakes, reboots, social networking (the Ghostface iPhone app had me in stitches) and everything in between. The movie has been on maybe 10 minutes, and it’s already knowingly separated out the true horror fans from those of you out there that sit through this stuff simply to bash it. That’s right – 10 minutes in, and Williamson’s script is already pointing its finger in the faces of its detractors, and saying “You. Hey! The forum troll in the middle of the theater who enjoys dropping spoilers and shit-talking horror fans! Get lost! The rest of you? Enjoy the show!”
We catch back up with Sidney Prescott, whose name, I’ve noticed, I’ve continually fucked up from review to review (Syndey vs. Sidney), as she returns to her hometown of Woodsboro. A stop on her book tour. A stop she dreads for obvious reasons. Having lived under the stigma of “victim” most of her life because of Gale Weathers’ book series, and the usual, almost yearly opening of a new “Stab” movie (we’re up to 7 now), Sidney has written an inspirational book about living under the toughest of circumstances and taking comfort in the fact that it can always get better.
Not everyone is happy to see her. Gale – married to former Deputy (now Sheriff) Dewey for over 10 years – has lived an unfulfilled life in the town she hates, and now gets to watch the limelight she once had shine brightly on Sid. Her scenes are both funny and almost poignant as we see her trying to reclaim her youth and profession after living nearly dormant under the town’s mozy. Then there’s Sid’s cousin Jill, who has also lived under shadows – that of constant family tragedy. All of her friends think Sidney something of a folklore legend – the Woodsboro “survivor”, in their town, on the Anniversary of their massacre? Sweet! Where do I upload my excitement? She’s even invited to their annual “Stab-a-thon”, where the town youths get together in an old barn and watch a marathon of the “Stab” moves – 1 thru 7, in a move that the original cast members liken more to “tempting fate”. Sidney, masking disgust, politely refuses. As Dewey regretfully muses, “One generations’ tragedy is the next generation’s joke”. How unfortunately, disgracefully, true. And when a new Ghostface killer is running around stabbing, slicing and gutting people – gleefully reminding Sid that this is her fault in some way – it makes matters so much worse.
The irony is, Sid doesn’t even seem to believe her own work. In Scream 3, Neve Campbell’s performance seemed lax. She seemed bored with playing Sidney, and it showed. It would be easy to hit Campbell again here, as the performance certainly looks tired. But look closer. Sindey is tired. Everything that happens in this film, she’s not surprised by. She immediately feels guilty for everything that’s happened, even if she was always the victim of circumstance. Neve’s performance here seems hollow on the outside, but it’s actually really brilliant. She truly appears to be someone who has nestled herself deep in her guilt and can’t feel anything else anymore. It’s as if she came back to Woodsboro to pick a fight, knowing full well that history was destined to repeat itself and that she’d be at the center of another bloodbath. Will she make it this time? I don’t even think she cares.
Take for instance a scene where she witnesses someone being viciously slaughtered in a neighbor’s house through the window. The person being killed is beyond hope at this point – the room is splattered floor to ceiling with blood. Knowing this, what does Sidney do? She marches across the lawn, throws open the door and runs upstairs, completely unarmed to kick the killer’s ass. Sidney absolutely doesn’t care anymore. And when the film’s reveal occurs during the finale and the motive is given – another pithy complaint regarding Sidney’s, I dunno, existence it seems – she may as well have rolled her eyes for all the care she can muster. She’s heard variations of this shit three times now, and just. Doesn’t. Care. And I loved her for it. Sidney is a girl who has lost a piece of her soul with every massacre that happens around her, and now is just a tired and bitter (albeit resilient) person who gleans hope only from the very few friends she has in the survivors of Woodsboro. I found myself rooting for Sidney and admiring Neve Campbell’s performance more here than in any other Scream.
What’s funny about Scream 4 is that we’re introduced to a new stable of characters. A few “fresh faces” – some familiar (like the chick from “Heroes” and one of the dozen or so Culkins), some not – but that’s the extent of their depth. These new characters, said to be the new crop to carry the torch, don’t go much beyond “fresh faces”. Not just because they continually get bumped off – as they do – but (and I truly believe this) because we’re not meant to care about them. Craven and Williamson have created a history with the likes of Gale, Dewey and Sid. They know that old fans are here to see them, and that we’re here to see Scream 4 and not Scream: The Next Generation, or Scream the remake. There’s an obvious bias here, folks, and personally, I liked watching the film unfold and being reminded that yes, the time, the effort, the scares, the worry, the point, of this film – is the original characters. As I said, Scream 4 isn’t interested in pandering to new audiences – it knows who will and won’t see it. I certainly didn’t care about the new characters. Not a one is fleshed out quite the way Sid and her friends were in the original film, they’re just…”here”. Nothing against the new cast, but I felt during the film that the very bane of their existence was to remind us why we love the original characters so much.
Scream 4 is here for fans of the series and doesn’t give a shit if you’re not part of the crew. It’s the rougher side of the coin to the almost apologetic Scream 3 that, while I stood in the minority and found it entertaining, believe was made to appease everyone. It was too nice, too funny, too conventional – it wanted to win over the people who might not have dug the first two by poking fun at itself to show it’s a good sport. Hey, for some it worked. For some it didn’t.
Scream 4, however, is the polar opposite. Cynical as it sounds, I truly believe the film was made to pick a fight with those who took issue with the series, yet trotted out every Halloween for a new Saw sequel. If they couldn’t finally sell you with the self-proclaimed “Final Chapter”, well…you’re not going to like this one either, and I think you know it. Scream 4 certainly knows it, and nearly goes out of its way to alienate that audience with jabs at so-called “horror buffs”, who enjoy hitting their computer after watching a film they went in knowing that they were going to hate it (prior to seeing it, mind you), and coming up with snarky remarks about why they hate it so much. There’s plenty of those reviews already out there, plenty of forums already flooded with anti-Scream bile, and slanderous remarks to those of us who still “like these shitty films”. If you’re reading this review, mulling over ways to creatively tell me I’m “kissing Craven’s ass” or that I haven’t “grown up since 1996”, that’s fine. I had my fun. Scream 4 works for me. It doesn’t feel forced, or hokey. It’s completely relevant to today’s horror films as the original was in its day, just this time it’s not interested in winning you over, is all. The only people who would be offended by that sentiment are the ones who have a chip on their shoulder from the outset.
If the packed theater I was in is any indication during the midnight “Sneak Preview” I got in to see – with it’s crowd of laughing, screaming, cheering fans of all ages, generation gap be damned – than Craven and Williamson have gotten their message through. The absolute best line in Scream 4 is when Sid sneers in disgust at her assailant, and speaks for all of us when she informs the new killer (and modern Hollywood by extension)…”that’s why you don’t fuck with the original”. As a life-long horror fan, tired of remakes, reboots, requels and everything in between…to Williamson and Craven I say, “thanks for listening, guys!”
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