Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
May 2011

Here we go again, again

'Scream 4' confirms the obvious: The 'Scream' movies are out of ideas

Scream 4
Dimension Films
Director: Wes Craven
Screenplay: Kevin Williamson
Starring: Neve Campbell, Emma Roberts, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Hayden Panettiere, Marley Shelton, Rory Culkin, Erik Knudsen and Alison Brie
Rated R / 1 hour, 51 minutes
(out of four)

Scream 4 is a boring movie with a boring, played-out strategy. Worse yet is that it knows this. Still it persists.

Of all the sequels, remakes and reboots (this movie can lay claim to being each of those, if not all three at once) we've seen in recent years, this is arguably the most cynical attempt yet to revitalize an existing brand for no discernible reason. And you know what? It knows this as well - does, in fact, try to exploit that fact by adding another layer or two to the series' already-thick self-awareness. Haha, look, we're making fun of horror remakes and reboots, haha, look how meta we're being about ourselves, hahaha . . .

The film thinks that this increased self-awareness gets it off the hook. But that's a cheap trick and we all know it. Yes, Scream 4 may be poking fun at the reboot-happy Hollywood culture, but that doesn't make it any less guilty. It's still boring and it's still cynical and it's still pointless, just like all the movies it's pretending to satirize.

The original Scream (1996) had a clever conceit - a self-deconstructing horror satire - and was able to run with it, sardonically winking at the conventions of its own genre while maintaining its teen-slasher bona fides.

It pre-dated the modern meta craze (I'm not sure if "craze" is really the right word, but we'll go with it), and more importantly, it actually worked. That its own style could only go so far (read: one movie) is a different story, but for that one movie, Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson pulled it off. Really, the only major problem with Scream was how Matthew Lillard kept on doing that Matthew Lillard thing, which is called Being Incredibly Irritating Every Single Time He Appears on Screen. But aside from that, a solid movie.

And now here we are on movie No. 4 in the franchise. Now that horror movies have long since caught up to the trends Scream popularized. Now that we've gotten a hundred or so entries in the Scary Movie franchise - a series that was redundant in the first place (a satire of a satire?). And here come Craven and Williamson, back for another go.

It doesn't take long to realize they're basically just running in place. Their idea in 2011 is virtually identical to their idea in 1996. Oh, they modernize it all right - Cell phones! Facebook! Twitter! Webcams! YouTube! - but the technique and purpose are exactly the same as they were in the original. Nothing has changed. You know the drill - a series of murders strikes Woodsboro, and all the teenagers raised on too many horror movies deconstruct the cliches and conventions of the genre in a running self-commentary.

It's the 15th anniversary of the Woodsboro murders, and wouldn't you know it, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) just happens to be in town on the final leg of the book tour for her non-fiction bestseller. Meanwhile, reporter/author Gale (Courteney Cox) is trying to reinvent herself after her books based on the previous killings were turned into a lucrative horror-movie franchise (Stab).

The new generation of high-schoolers includes Sidney's cousin, Jill (Emma Roberts); Jill's friends Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) and Olivia (Marielle Jaffe); Jill's clingy ex-boyfriend Trevor (Nico Tortorella); and of course, the film's resident horror geeks, Robbie (Erik Knudsen) and Charlie (Rory Culkin), who will inform us exactly how 21st century horror methods will dictate the pattern of the new series of killings.

But what was clever once is now stale. Ah, but the filmmakers have an answer for that - they repeatedly point out how stale they're being, and how certainly this newest string of murders will subvert the conventions so thoroughly exploited in past Scream entries. But you know what? That actually makes the film seem even more stale, and the filmmakers desperate. Desperate to be relevant, while simply repeating themselves for a new generation.

Scream 4 has its moments, but its incessant need to out-clever itself quickly turns to tedium, and that tedium quickly turns to boredom. I've heard this is supposed to be the start of a new trilogy, but the sad truth is, this franchise ran out of ideas a long time ago.

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Read more by Chris Bellamy

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