The Best Movie Critic + TIME

Taking A Break From Camp: Scream 4

The Boyfriend and I walked into a nearly empty theater last Saturday morning already feeling nostalgic and old – even more so after the ticket girl told me she was in kindergarten when the original Scream came out in 1996. (Confidential to the ticket girl: Fuck off and explode).

The first two Scream movies, to quote one of the better bon mots in Scream 4, “were my nineties”. As a semi-literate, movie obsessed (especially horror movies) small-town teenager, it was pure candy – I saw it at least three times in the theater with varying groups of friends. The sequel that followed wasn't so much a letdown as it was a retread with little to add, and the third one was so convoluted with heretofore unknown family secrets it threatened to turn into a soap opera (on the plus side, Parker Posey!). The inevitability of a fourth in the series was never in doubt. I am surprised at just how long it took, but perhaps that accounts for its higher quality (and the previously mentioned empty theater).

Let me just get this out of the way: I loved Scream 4 - blatant cash grab though it may be – I had a big stupid grin on my face for all 110 minutes of it. I made an audible coo when Neve Campbell came onscreen as though I was watching a bride enter the church on her wedding day. I didn’t coo quite as much when the Arquettes, David and Courtney, made their entrance, but they were never really my favorite thing about the films to begin with. They've always been just the square adult figures tasked with helping the kids solve the mystery – Fred and a bitchy Daphne to everyone else’s Scooby Doo. By labeling Scream 4 a “reboot” (both accurate and clever marketing misdirection, ultimately), it allows Campbell’s Sydney to move into an apparently unsafe unsafe position – can she still be the Final Girl after four movies and 15 years? Or does the role default to her doppelgänger cousin Jill (Emma Roberts, a game performer in a tricky role)? At what point are you no longer a heroine? And what about the other teenagers that populate the town? They're all essentially stand-ins for the original Scream’s cast, so what we are left with is stereotypes based on stereotypes commenting on tropes that their predecessors recognized and were done in by, only to be ultimately destroyed by the same tropes. My brain just folded in upon itself.

Scream 4 isn’t really all that scary, really – only two or three moments really have any power to frighten (a scene in an empty parking garage stands out) – but it does hit all the comedic notes just right. Hayden Panettiere squeezes out most of the laughs as Kirby, a butch/bitchy/sassy BFF to Jill, who also happens to be a bit of a horror movie buff. Perhaps the quintessential Scream moment since Drew Barrymore burned her popcorn comes when Kirby, being quizzed by the killer over the phone, is told to “name the remake of…” and she cuts him off by listing every single horror movie remake of the last decade. It’s a great little monologue that comes at a relative slow point of the third act.

The rest of the cast equips themselves well, although many of them have about two minutes of screen time amidst the cameo-palooza of B and C-list television stars (Adam Brody! Anna Paquin! That girl from that show! President Roslin! That other guy from, er, ya know?! Veronica Mars!). If I have one quibble, it’s that many of the characters were so short shrifted that when they died (and the second half is a blood bath, take my word) my reaction was more “who’s that again?” and not so much “oh no!”.

DON’T WORRY, I’M NOT GONNA RUIN THE END BUT IT MIGHT SEEM LIKE IT FOR JUST A SECOND: Somehow, the final twist of the killer’s identity was able to stay true to the franchise as a whole, say something new about the current youth culture, and give us 30-ish-year-olds that were just scoffed at by the ticket girl a rallying cry. It’s almost adorably crotchety in twisting the proverbial knife into the kids who weren’t even born in 1996 by highlighting their new millennial digital narcissism (that I suppose I am engaging in simply by posting this - but I'm an Old now, so it's okay).

Walking out, The Boyfriend and I wondered to ourselves just who the intended audience was for Scream 4: The glut of 28-35-year-olds who aren't currently busy updating their Facebook friends with pictures of their babies (SRSLY STOP Thx.)? Because there aren't many of us - most of the people I went to the first Scream with were probably at another theater seeing something animated in 3D with their toddlers. The audience for teen slasher movies, meta or not, is typically young. They like their Final Girls under 25, and their violence GRAPHIC, pleeease. Once you've seen a girl's eye pulled out of it's socket and charred with a blowtorch, the ante must be upped. It's somewhat telling that the cascade of women slaughtered in the opening sequence goes from younger to older before circling back around to young again. Neve Campbell, ingenue though she may still look (thanks, science!), is not a teenager anymore. The All About Eve-stylejolt that really inspires Scream 4's best twists is exactly the same thing that transpired between me and that awful ticket girl - a subconscious (not really) fuck you to the generation that follows. "You think you're so special?!" we say. I realize I may be getting a little too existential (a.k.a.: DRUNK) for a blog post about a movie with the number "4" in the title, but we're dealing with something that's basic message is "kids these days! AMIRIGHT?! Let's murder them with knives."

What I’m saying is this: go see it so they’ll make a fifth one, please. Do it for me. And do it for that fucking awful ticket girl.

Thanks,
-Ryan

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