Movie Review: Scream 4 (The REALLY Short Version)
By Tom Houseman
December 22, 2011
And in what is perhaps my favorite five second span of any movie this year that does not involve Keira Knightley getting spanked, Kristen Bell calmly turns back to face the TV and presses play. This pause gives us just enough time for us to fully register what happened. We go through the initial shock of seeing somebody not in a mask gut somebody else, and are left staring at a perfectly calm murderer watching a horror movie. And before we can scream “what the fuck?!” at the top of our lungs in a crowded movie theater, the title screen pulls up, STAB 7, and we cut to another scene of two different blonde girls watching that movie, preparing to overanalyze it.
Why This is Kind of Brilliant
Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven are throwing down the gauntlet here. There are rules for horror movies, rules for sequels, and rules for conclusions of trilogies. The first three Scream movies explain those rules and then effectively subvert them, trying to throw us off our guard. But there are no established rules for a fourth movie. Usually the fourth film in a series stops worrying about continuity and just tries to be as big and crazy as possible, usually with disastrous results (as anybody who saw Pirates of the Caribbean 4 can attest to). So what rules are there for Scream 4 to subvert? None, and Williamson and Craven know that. So what they're saying is this: expect anything.
Part of the fun of the Scream movies is trying to figure out who the killer is and inevitably being wrong. Throughout Scream 4 I kept changing my guess, usually because my prime suspect would get killed off. My two main suspects were based on characters I considered throwbacks to killers from the first two movies: the ex-boyfriend (very similar to Billy Loomis) and the precocious publicist (in my mind a doppelganger of Debbie Salt). But I couldn't forget those opening scenes, and thinking “there are no rules here. We can expect anything. What if Gale is the killer? What if Sidney is the killer? What if everyone in the film is a killer?” I couldn't get on solid footing the entire film because those two first scenes had destroyed my ability to believe anything I saw or was told. Williamson and Craven knew what they were doing with those first two scenes, and it was fucking with our heads. And my God did they do it well.
Why This was Totally Brilliant
There's a certain strangeness that comes with a movie being self-aware, and it is this: if you are self-aware, you know that you are a movie. You know that you are not real life, that your characters are not real people, and that everything that is happening in you is entirely fictional. Typically, there are two courses of action you can take with this kind of information. You can ignore it, which is what the show Community does. Abed on Community frequently draws comparisons between the events on the show and other TV shows and movies, but the characters believe that they are real people and that what is happening is real life. The other option is to openly state that what you are is fictional, often by breaking the fourth wall. Family Guy does this frequently, with one character or another (usually Peter or Stewie) occasionally commenting on the fact that they are in a TV show.