My Afternoon with Scream 4

Scream 4 PosterYesterday I saw Scream 4. It was an irony-filled event. Not just because of the film itself, either, although irony is what the Scream series is famous for. Everything surrounding the viewing was ironic as well.

A little background. Being a lover of movies, I have now seen over a thousand of them, and, while I can’t call myself a connoisseur of the horror genre, I have seen at least 20-30 horror films. However, until yesterday, I saw every one of those films on television or a DVD. I had never been to a theater to see one. Growing up, of course, my movie-watching was dictated largely by my parents, who don’t watch horror movies. In the first few years of my independence, no new horror film seemed particularly interesting. So now, it is a belated fourth entry in a film series notorious for simultaneously mocking and embracing the silliest slasher film conventions that gets me into a theater. At the very least, I knew I could expect the laughs to come almost as frequently as the screams.

And then I decided to see it on a Monday afternoon. I didn’t do a head count, but there couldn’t have been more than six or seven people in the auditorium with me (that’s probably counting the projectionist). None of them were in my immediate vicinity, because I chose a seat near the front, as I always do when I go to a movie alone. “Alone” is how I felt. The screen was bigger, but I really might as well have waited for the home video release. There was very little shared experience to be had. The hope was that a collective experience of fear would make the film more effective and enjoyable, but it seems I’ll have to wait for the next horror movie that catches my eye.

So, this was the way I chose to end my horror film virginity. As I sat in the empty auditorium until the end of the credits (again, my preference when no one in my party is itching to leave), I reflected on the irony of the situation before coming to grips with the ironies in the film in front of me. I knew it would take awhile to unravel them fully. This film series has become a bit of brain teaser. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed myself a great deal, just as I enjoyed the film’s three predecessors. But something in the back of my mind told me that I could very well go back and forth about it in the days to come, and that it’s possible the film even defeats itself.

First, naturally, there’s the opening sequence. I found it quite amusing at the time, and it wasn’t until quite later that the following thought came to me: this “Russian doll” sequence (as other critics have called it) is fun, but what it amounts to is this: Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven, always self-aware, provide their own analysis of the Scream series’ endless self-analysis, and the sequence ultimately pokes fun at itself for poking fun at itself. Grrr. But again, I enjoyed it very much when I was in the moment. That’s not to say I’ll ever enjoy it again, but I probably will. In any case, the sequence sums up my experience of the film as a whole.

After four films, the series has clearly settled into an incredibly rigid formula. The only real surprise is the identity of the killer, and the filmmakers are as skilled as ever at making us suspect the wrong people. In general, I’d say that the film is skillfully done without adding much that’s new. Brief mention is made of how “torture porn” has taken over the genre, and the story is a clever treatment of the horror remake, but besides these two factors, the film doesn’t feel especially appropriate to its time. The best thing it has to say about the age in which we live comes at the end. Without spoiling anything, the message is that celebrity in the age of reality television has nothing to do with achievement. Rather, we make famous the people who do the least noble things. There is more to be said about the film’s ending, but of course it can only be said among people who have seen it.

I had doubts when I first heard about this film. By the time the fourth movie comes around, it just feels like the primary motivation for making it has to be money. And then there’s the eleven-year period between films. This movie could have turned out good or awful. I think I can say that it’s not awful. But with each new film in the series, it feels more and more cynical. While this film makes an improvement over Scream 3 in terms of the identity and motivation of the killer, it also says something disturbing in relation to the previous film. The movie-within-a-movie from Scream 3, called Stab 3, isn’t completed, since pretty much everyone involved with the movie dies. At the beginning of Scream 4 we learn that they have made 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 in the Stab series. So despite the tragedy that ended production on Stab 3, the studio hired a new team and made it anyway, probably changing things to reflect “real” events. That Williamson and Craven entertain this thought is rather disturbing — which is not to say unbelievable.

So, to sum up, I enjoyed the film. Believe it or not, I don’t have a strongly negative reaction to the idea that a fifth film might be made. The series remains fun for me, no matter how sadistic Roger Ebert wants me to feel for thinking so. I love the conceit of the Scream movies, and how film-literate they all are. I admit, though, that perhaps the series is due for a reboot. Ironically enough.

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