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One of the most dangerous things as far as watching movies is concerned is to go into a film with high expectations. After you come back from seeing a new film in theaters, if you don’t like it, it’s inevitable that one of your friends tells you it’s because you went in expecting too much. This is why it is just that much more rewarding when you go in with high expectations and the filmmakers reward you for your faith by delivering a great film for your viewing pleasure, as Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson do with Scream 4, the latest installment to the classic horror franchise.
Most famous for the Ghostface killer and the propensity for gruesome murders, the franchise is also well-known for its expert deconstruction of the horror genre. Thanks to the original trilogy, we know the “rules” for horror movies, sequels, and trilogies, and Scream 4 continues this tradition by deconstructing the now ubiquitous franchise reboot. What exactly are the rules for the reboot, if there are any? How close does a reboot have to stay to the original films and where, if anywhere, is a reboot allowed to go that the original franchise didn’t?
At one point in the film, Courteney Cox, discussing the “rules” of the slasher saga in which she is currently trapped, asks David Arquette, “How meta can you get?” This line perfectly sums up the film. Wes Craven has always been a very meta director. For proof, one just needs to watch the original Scream and take note of Craven, playing a janitor named Fred and dressed in the same sweater as Craven’s iconic creation Freddy Krueger. This is the type of metafilmmaking at which Craven excels, and Scream 4 is meta as only the meta master can do it. For all of the attempts from recent filmmakers to make films in a similarly self-reflexive style as the legendary dream (re: nightmare) weaver, Craven has come back to reclaim his spot at the top of the horror hierarchy.
With all of the sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots clogging up the modern horror scene, Craven and original Scream scribe Williamson were faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge. How can you possibly breathe new life into a franchise that had already been stretched out over three films, the last of which had already collected a decade’s worth of dust? For fans with faith in the franchise, the reward is a film more than worthy of placement alongside the original trilogy, and for skeptics, the surprising result is one of the best horror films in recent memory. There are undoubtedly points in the film that may alienate “hardcore fans” and there are some plot points that viewers might question, but if you give Craven and Williamson the benefit of the doubt and ride it out through every twist and turn, I am quite confident you will be pleased to have gone along for the ride.
Since the original, the Scream franchise has taken as many pains to craft clever humor as it has to shock and terrify us, and Scream 4 is ample proof that the team hasn’t lost their touch. I think this is the funniest film of the franchise and the expected sagacious commentary on horror is on full display, but even in the realm of character extension and plot development, Williamson doesn’t fumble on this most important play. This film delivers big time on the laughs as well as the screams, and the best part about Craven’s meta approach to filmmaking is that it gives you an excuse to revisit the original trilogy before heading out to the theaters to welcome this brilliant franchise into the new era of horror.
Kyle Barrowman is the Senior Editor of Film Monthly. He is studying film theory and criticism in Chicago.
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