Meta Headline Here
You wanna know who the killer is? I’ll tell you who the killer is. In fact, there’s two killers: that’s the twist. Director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson worked in tandem here to murder the horror comedy… or at least their own franchise. Not that it wasn’t dead already. So there’s another twist: You thought the Scream series was dead? Watch it get temporarily reanimated in Scream 4 as some sort of undead corpse shuffling through the multiplexes of the world, until Craven and Williamson knock its head off and shove a stake through its heart. Not deliberately, of course. They don’t think they’re killing it: they think they’re reviving it.
It’s sorta sad to watch. The body’s been buried and rotting for more than 10 years. It’s pretty putrid at this point. But Craven (Red Eye) and Williamson (The Faculty, I Know What You Did Last Summer) dig it up and shake it around like demented puppeteers who don’t notice that their beloved is all corpse-ified. Did Williamson think he was being clever when he wrote this line for his supposed-to-be-scary Ghostface voice: “You forgot the first rule of remakes: Don’t fuck with the original”? Did he recognize the irony… or was he embracing it? Because with a bizarre kind of pseudo reverence, Scream 4 fucks not one whit with the original Scream. Which dates, let us recall, from 1996. Scream 4 — I refuse to call it Scre4m, which I wouldn’t even know how to pronounce — feels like some long-lost attempt at meta horror comedy from the late 1990s. One mention of Facebook and streaming video aside, this is a supposedly pop-culture-aware meta-commentary-ing movie that appears to have missed the entire past decade of social media and on-demand movies, not to mention, oh, the unsettling horrors of mass-casualty terrorism and never-ending warfare. To be fair, one random character does note that meta has been “done to death.” Which may be true. But then the film goes on to explicitly reference Shaun of the Dead, as if to accidentally suggest that if meta horror has been done to death, it went to a place way beyond anything the Scream series ever dared dream about — even in this latest film — before it died.
The creative cognitive dissonance on display in Scream 4 is truly astonishing.
The story is the same as always. Hapless heroine Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell: The Company, 54) is back in Woodsboro, California, promoting her new book about surviving the events of the Scream franchise — she might as well have never left. Dewy (David Arquette: Hamlet 2, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D) is the sheriff now, and married to crap journo Gail Weathers (Courteney Cox: Bedtime Stories, The Longest Yard). Cotton Weary is nowhere to be found, since Liev Schreiber has an actual career these days — honestly, I do sincerely wonder how much of Scream 4 was about charity for poor Neve Campbell. There’s some new young knife fodder in the likes of Emma Roberts (It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Valentine’s Day), Hayden Panettiere (Alpha and Omega, I Love You, Beth Cooper), Rory Culkin (Mean Creek, The Night Listener), etc. A Ghostface killer moves among them again, taunting and stabbing. It’s all so remarkably unintriguing that when the identity of the killer is revealed, the only thing surprising about it — or about the killer’s motives — is how unsurprising it is.
Forget meta horror comedies: it’s as if neither Craven nor Williamson have seen a single movie of any kind at all in the past decade. The things I was ready to be pissed off about in Scream 4 — if, say, so-and-so turned out to be Ghostface this time, for such-and-such reason — were far more meta and far more appealing. I was prepared to be angry to see Craven and Co. try to pull an Inception–Fight Club–Matrix–Memento–flavored twist. Now I see that I should have been delighted if they’d been that daring.
Maybe we can expect that in Scream 5, coming Summer 2023 to a theater near you.
• Scream, Scream 2, and Scream 3 (review)