Dear Scream 4,
I have a joke I think you will like, based on the time I spent with you. I think it’s right up your alley; So, a priest and a rabbi walk into a bar, and the priest turns to the rabbi and says, “hey, this reminds me of a joke I know. So, a priest and a rabbi walk into a bar, and the rabbi turns to the priest and says, ‘hey, this reminds me of a joke I know. A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar…’”
Hilarious right? You see, because the priest and the rabbi know they are in a joke, and they reference it, and their references also reference it. It’s so meta that it comes back on itself and becomes sincere again before becoming meta again. What’s the punchline? Oh. I thought that the mere acknowledgment of the joke’s inherent intelligence related to its own existence would provide worth to the joke itself. I know its not funny, but… well, ok.
Do you see now why I might be less than enamored with you? You’re an intelligent film in terms of genre knowledge, but like the child prodigy who crosses over from precocious into the realm of the grating, you over-explain and expound to the point of tedium. What was once an interest insight into the seldom-thought-about realm of cinematic horror has now become a mobius strip of exaggerated postmodern exposition. This is made all the worse by the even more basic fact that you fail to ever be scary.
As a self-aware remake/reboot of the original Scream, you have a set of pretty big shoes to fill, and can’t help but wink and nudge your way through the tying of the laces. You have characters openly comparing themselves to the characters of the original film, even calling themselves ‘original’ and ‘reboot.’ They reiterate the rules of the genre, both old and new, and openly monologue their places in the narrative in order to contextualize their coming ends and/or false-starts.
And this all sort of falls in line with the characteristics that made your original incarnation such a hit. Horror movies are so full of tropes and cliche that a satirical homage seems almost a forgone conclusion, especially if directed by a master of horror like Wes Craven. The first Scream was a perfect storm that capitalized on 90s postmodernism and pop culture savvy, while also remaining true to the source material at hand. Characters knew what horror movies were, but were not entirely aware that they were in a horror movie themselves. This allowed Scream to be not only clever deconstruction, but actually frightening genre entry.
You, on the other hand, have horror movie characters which have seemingly come to life, and since a character doesn’t exist outside of a movie, they have no depth, no need to fear death. Whereas half the fear from a horror movie is experienced by proxy through a terrified character, your characters never really feel as though they have a sense of their own mortality. They are almost too hip to be scared, never becoming a believable entity, and therefore never reaching the type of emotional level that allows the audience to care.
My expectations were low upon first deciding to see you. To say you somehow exceeded them would be damning with faint praise. You gave a few jump-scares, but never reached a level of tension or dread that could sustain itself. You were a self-aware horror film that allowed for too much self-awareness and not enough horror. You are competently directed, smartly written, and very in touch with the genre you want to represent, but you never find the balance between purity of intent and meta awareness that allows for something to serve both as a critique and an example.
Your first fifteen minutes are both your greatest asset and your own best critic. A nested, ultra-meta, one-step-too-far takedown of the last decade’s worth of the horror genre that goes from self-conscious-but-tense to funny-and-self-aware and then on to middling-and-predictable. Sadly, this final stage of this reflexive joke is where you decide to stake your claim and set up camp. Too bad, considering a decade’s worth of horror has given us plenty of new tropes that could have been exploited to both hilariously ironic and frighteningly sincere results.
The jokes on me,
Brian J. Roan