Wes Craven | 111 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R
I had heard Scre4m (Scream 4, if you prefer) was dreadful; a misguided, belated attempt to revive a once-popular franchise. Personally, I thought it was fun.
Set ten years after the trilogy-closing Scream 3, the new movie wisely kicks off in years-later-sequel mode, re-introducing us to the (surviving) old characters and setting up a selection of new ones ready to be sliced ‘n’ diced. Unlike some subsequent horror franchises, Scream was never about inventive deaths, so the focus on character and storyline (relatively, at least) makes for a welcome change of pace from gore-riddled modern US horror movies.
One of the hallmarks of the original films, as I’m sure you’ll recall, is that they featured characters who were very aware of the rules of the horror movie. It played on these mercilessly, said characters employing knowledge of decades’ worth of horror films and horror sequels in order to (try to) survive. That’s not gone in Scre4m, which sets its sights on the US horror predilections that have followed since; mainly remakes and reboots. Sadly, there’s probably more on-the-nose dialogue-y exposition-y stuff about the poor quality and predictability of remakes than actually integrating such criticism into the film itself; but then again the parallels to the original Scream are there for those who care to look.
It also leads to quite a good extended bit where some characters reel off a list of recent remakes, which rather highlights just how far it’s gone now. There’s lots of examples of this fun ‘meta’ stuff for film fans; for real-world-stuff too, including references to Courtney Cox and David Arquette’s marriage, Emma Roberts being in the shadow of Julia Roberts, and so on.
In a nod to the rise of ‘torture porn’ films, Scre4m frequently reminds us that the rules have changed. I think what it really proves is there are no rules any more. Which on the one hand is fine — filmmakers have spent decades trying to subvert our expectations and surprise us in the horror genre — but on the other means the intelligent viewer can never be surprised, because every possibility is racing through our mind. Which, again, is fine — that’s the point: like every kind of murder mystery from Agatha Christie on, half the game is guessing the killer. And if you want to get suckered in to the jump scares, or think it through so thoroughly you remain ahead of them, that’s fine too. I think that’s one of the reasons horror movies have always appealed so much to teens: they’re still naive enough, unfamiliar with the rules of film enough, to get caught out by those things; whereas an older, seasoned viewer can see them coming.
But, ultimately, all the discussion of horror movies and their rules is just window dressing: if there aren’t rules any more (which there don’t seem to be), it’s impossible for the characters to use them to survive, or for it to lend much self-reflexive weight to how the killer behaves. The only moment when it might be of use is when they predict the climax will occur at a party, and it turns out they’re having a party that very night! But then they go ahead with anyway. So much for that then.
Like so much of the film, Marco Beltrami’s score is amusingly overblown. He makes it sound like something terrifying is happening when someone sits in broad daylight typing “I don’t know what to write” on their computer. I had similar thoughts on bits of the acting, the murders, and so on — there’s an element of a wink and a nudge, of deliberately hamming it up. I think that some would see this as a lack of skill in the acting/writing/directing departments, but I think it’s a choice. Or I choose to think it’s a choice, take your pick. Arguably the resultant mix works as well as a comedy as it does a horror movie. This, I think, is part of why the Scary Movie movies are so reviled — they simply take the piss out of something that is, to one degree or another, already taking the piss.
In many respects, Scre4m is kind of old school. It fits better in the era of the original trilogy and/or earlier horror films than with the development of the genre in the intervening decade. Though as the main development has been torture porn, and it criticises that explicitly from the very first scene, perhaps that’s still OK. In fact, they’re one step ahead again, with a nod to the most most-recent development (the Paranormal Activity-led “found footage” boom), which actually plays a more central role than the torture porn stuff.
It’s fair to say that a chunk of nostalgia for the originals colours my liking of Scre4m. Perhaps it plays best to those who saw the first three at the right age, i.e. mid-to-late teens or so. I shouldn’t think it would engage a new audience all that much, especially ones versed in the gorier Saw and Final Destination franchises. But for those of us with fond memories (to one degree or another) of the first three films, it’s kind of a nice little revisit.