Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Kevin Williamson & Ehren Kruger
Wes Craven is modern horror's grandpa: he helped establish the guidelines of the genre's post-Romero-reinvention with 1972's The Last House on the Left and, roughly a decade later, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Both of those films have been remade in the last several years, along with a slew of other horror classics. And so what better subject for Craven's return to the self-conscious Scream franchise—so self-aware it bemoans self-awareness—than The Reboot? But more than just a snarky commentary on the genre's changing conventions, Scream 4 is a diatribe from its pioneers (writer Williamson has some cred, too, as the penner of the original Scream; Kruger, as author of the third, has none), a Return of the Olds to show these kids what's what. The series' film-within-the-film, Stab, has become a joke, up to its sixth sequel; characters lament the gruesome anonymity of torture porn. "One generation's tragedy," now-sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) laments, "is the next one's joke." Then let the tragedy return!
In this Part Four, Scream's perennial last girl standing, Sidney (Neve Campbell), has reinvented herself as an author, penning a memoir that doubles as self-help catnip, a tale of distaff strength and survival. But when she returns to Woodsboro on her book tour—coincidentally, right around the anniversary of the original killings—she's pulled into a new series of Ghostface slayings. Sidney stands in for Craven and Williamson: she's trying to do something new, to switch genres, but gets sucked back into the old slasher game. Of course, that game has changed: as the live-streaming bloggers in the old Randy-role point out, "reversals have become the new standard." The new rule is that there are no rules (groan): cliches can be violated or embraced; either way reinvigorates them. Craven takes that rule to heart: his knives are more old-school phallic than they ever have been, and he also relishes at least one classic horror motif—the violated home. The phone calls through which Ghostface has historically terrorized his victims are his way of breaching the boundaries of suburban safety; the film's only on-screen parent is killed by a knife through a mail slot, the tiniest vulnerability in the home fortress exploited.
The filmmakers return the movie to a high school in a leafy suburb, where the non-summer camp slasher belongs—and where today classrooms clang with a chorus of ring tones—by centering on Sidney's teenage cousin (Emma Roberts) and her friends (including my favorite Culkin, Rory). Once the killings start, much of the film's poignancy stems from Sidney's forced observance of a new generation going through the same things she did (dead friends), and the feeling that just her presence negatively affects the lives of kids she cares about. She feels old; so does the movie. There are a lot of cheap shots at the Millenials, painting them as a twisted generation addicted to web video and the amateur fame it can bestow. "I don't need friends," the killer proclaims. "I need fans." (Double groan.) The original Scream was so great because it captured a paradigm shift, when pop culture fluency became so rampant that young people stopped creating art based on their lives, and instead based their lives on art. The rest of the series abandoned that zeitgeist-capturing relevancy, so at least give Scream 4 credit for trying to get some of it back with its fame-addicted Gen Yers. "You think this is all about you!" Sidney's cousin says to her in rebuke. "You think you're the star." But by the end it's clear who thinks he's really the star—Wes Craven. Grade: B-
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