Scream 4

Scream 4 ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Metatext taken to its highest heights, the memetic concept of Scream warped upon itself.

Scream 2 and 3 found their best moments when reconstructing the iconography of the originals; Scream 2's opening scene builds a murder out of the original's perfected filmmaking, reinterpreting the original's already "canonical" place in horror by morphing the scene into a blueprint of violence. Scream 3, for it's transgressions, is entirely worthwhile if only for the soundstage scene; as Sidney is chased by Ghostface in the reconstruction of the first Scream's house, her trauma is physically reconstructed, the perverse thrill of the horror genre inflicting its abuse upon those whose pain it so gleefully exploits.

Scream 4 largely preceded the soft-reboot trend of the 2010s, its tale of generational trauma cast as a reenactment of the original Scream in the most direct way possible. This Ghostface doens't just feel enamored with the violence of the past, as past Screams have; her adoration of the past murders comes from the warped perception of violence, the intrusion of media that has made victimhood become a strange form of celebrity. The sick allure of suffering that horror is trafficked in has always been the underlying evil Wes Craven sought to explore in these films, but Scream 4's conceit of seeing how people would willingly embrace the pain, so campy as it is here, is every bit as brilliant as the metacommentary of the original was.

Beneath the cruel violence and perverse social dynamics that give this film its edge, there's a true heart of gold, and one that only Scream could cultivate. Our core cast of survivors have grown so much in their complexity and empathy as this series developed, grappling with their pain while trying to rise above it. Sidney's development is especially incredible; while she has always been a strong character (not just for horror, but for film at large), seeing her willingness to protect others presented in such bold strokes was beyond incredible to see. That Craven would be so doggedly empathetic to the point where Sidney would willingly risk life and limb against yet another Ghostface out of altruistic good is honestly astounding; horror rarely has heroes, but Sidney Prescott is undoubtedly as good as they come.

Scream 4 might walk in the footprints of its predecessors, but it does so with a level of conviction that feels entirely worthwhile. The memetic growth of the Scream concept, the germ of an idea of a horror based in horror itself, is a conceptual ouroboros. The snake of violence will consume itself as long as violence exists, and at this point, it's clear that the cycle of trauma that fuels Scream's perverse dynamics of empowerment will likely never cease.

If evil can't be defeated, and the cycle is inescapable for the mere fact that we crave that which we fear, then Scream 4's thesis (or perhaps, synthesis?) at this point is stunningly clear:

Reject the toxicity of the world and embrace what peace you can find. We cannot prevent people from being swept up in anger and desire, in witnessing awful acts occur out of malice and greed. We can always stand against it though, questioning the images we consume, challenging those who wish to exploit them, and fighting against those who wish to do us harm.

Scream is a series of empowerment. In a genre steeped in toxic masculinity and shameless exploitation, it gives our heroes the tools to be good and resist evil. That is beyond invaluable. Beyond metafiction and galaxy brain maneuvering, it is the presence of fundamental good that makes Scream great.

Ghostface is a fragile concept, and one we will always be able to rebuke.

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