SCRE4M doesn’t redefine the rules, it redefines “jumping the shark”

James Wallace

by: James Wallace
April 15th, 2011

If you haven't seen SCRE4M, I would suggest you stop reading this right...about...now.

I'll admit this before you, my crowd of peers. SCRE4M was high up on my list of anticipation for 2011. I love this franchise, just as I'm sure gore geeks before me loved the respective slasher series of their day. For me, SCREAM was it. It wasn't my introduction to the genre (we have a particularly unfit babysitter and Freddy's Nightmares to thank for that) but it certainly was what defined it for me personally in my generation. Or redefined it from the previous generation, if you will. Horror was and is where the heart is for me, and this is where I became smitten.

To give that an origin story, I was born in 1984. SCREAM was released in 1996. A quick push and punch of your calculator (don't be embarrassed, whoever titled the latest installment isn't good at math and/or spelling for that matter) will reveal that I was 12 when the first film came out. You may be shocked to find this out, but I was just like any normal 12-year-old boy drawn to a film that promised blood, blondes, and...shucks, if I could only think of another B word derivative of teen slasher flicks! Despite what Dawson Leery may have led you to believe about the adolescence of my time, we did not turn our nose up at films that were made to play to an audience that wielded hormones like Leatherface flailingly wields a chainsaw.

Fast forward 15 years, and tack on a par, and subpar, duo of sequels to the potentially triumphant return of the SCREAM series. Director Wes Craven and writer/creator Kevin Williamson are back to bring an end to the mutiny on the Horror genre that is torture porn! Unfortunately, they seemed to have been brainwashed into joining the mob of masses somewhere in the uprising.

Of course I'm being dramatic for dramatics' sake but, all this to say, the writer and director had capable potential to do something truly fresh yet nostalgic. And it is truly a valiant effort the pair make in trying to take a stab at the sharp wit and self-reflexive pastiche they single-handedly rebooted the slasher subgenre with for a new generation, which they ultimately try to do again for what is now an older generation as well as a new, new generation. But just as the times have changed, so has the game and the playbook that goes along with it. As the cleverly-designed poster totes, "New Generation. New Rules." Rules that must acknowledge iPhones, social networking, meta memes, remakes, reboots, reboots of remakes, and just a general desensitization of culture via a blurring of what is reel and what is real. Life imitating art imitating life that imitates the Internet. That's a lot to be aware of when you're making a self-aware movie.

So, with the opportunity to whet the knife, they present something that ultimately turns out to be a dull blade. And that's where the frustration lies. SCRE4M is not a wholly bad film. It's only a partially bad film, which may be more disappointing nay frustrating than the former. It seems for the first and second act as if it really is going to make good on these pledges of redefining the rules, but in the third act it proves to redefine "jumping the shark." And here's the exact moment those promises become empty: there's a brief yet potentially key moment in SCRE4M where 1960's PEEPING TOM is made reference to as an answer to a question from our trivia game-obsessed Ghostface killer. This may be seen as Williamson's attempt to prove he can reference something pre-1980, but I immediately took this as a clue to where we were headed (and subsequently a direction we never went). Foreshadowing that faded away, if you will.

TOM also happens to be a film about the disconnect that can happen when you look at life through a lens or on a screen. Not to mention the fact that it is through the lens and the eyes of the killer that we experience and unavoidably relate to the antagonistic protagonist. The killer is a product of his experiences, both in the theater and outside of it.

So, when the who in whodunit is revealed to be Sidney's cousin, Jill Roberts (played by Emma Roberts) there is major potential to take the wheel of the film (and possible new franchise) and make a sudden left turn. She...the killer...whose motives are a perfect product placement of the very statements that SCRE4M attempts to make about both the youth of this generation and its pop culture...wins. The killer wins. She gets away with it. Sidney dies. Jill lives. That whole last moment in the hospital? Highlight it in Final Cut and hit the delete button. Cut to black on the poetic overhead shot where Jill lies next to Sidney (after she has just beaten the shit out of herself in what may be one of the film's most visually and thematically interesting scenes). Fade up from black as Moby's "First Cool Hive" fades in just as it did in the last scene for the first time in 1996, audibly mixed with the voice over of reporters as they stand in the foreground, blood soaked murder scene of a home in the background, delivering their pause-filled, overshadowing media coverage on the heroic sole survivor. The classic final girl archetype, who also happens to be the killer. Survived only by herself because of herself, as a victim of society and this perpetual lockjawed ghostly figure who haunts from beyond the grave time after time. The End...for now...maybe...if the box office numbers are good.

You can have that one for free, Mr. Williamson. You're welcome.

Preposterous? They'd never do that, you say? Why so? Movie history is filled with bad guys we get a good time out of rooting for. The current populous subgenre of Torture Porn is one centered around the killer getting away with his or her Mouse Trap-like murders as victims are put before us and killed in a horrific HOME ALONE-esque contraptions intended to resonate resounding cheers and churns (not so different from the days of Jason and Freddy and Michael). So, if you set out to redefine the rules of a genre for a new generation, why not play along with them while turning the knife on yourself, literally and figuratively? Jill is the new Sid and the new Ghostface. And Sid, the character we have all presumably rooted on to survive three films over more than a decade, has now become the character we root to be killed off. I'm sure there aren't too many people outside of the Julia Salinger fan club that would mind. Furthermore, do today’s teenagers even know who Neve Campbell is? Something tells me Party of Five isn’t at the top of the Netflix queue for many young whippersnappers.

Sure, we could all play the "this is how I would have wrote or made or edited this film" all day every day for every film ever made till the end of time. That is not the intention of this raving rambling. I'm not out to reinvent the knife sharpening wheel here...after all, that's not what SCREAM is known for. What it is known for however, and why people love it so, is that it figured out how to make the wheel still spin but in a different direction. Unfortunately, just when SCRE4M really gets spinning, it seems to come to a slow, disappointing stop.

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  • http://twitter.com/Carpie2112 J A Carp

    Although I can see the merits of your reengineered ending (but that, even more than the way they ended this one, would have killed the series) what they ended up doing was also heavily foreshadowed throughout the film… “the cliche is the new unexpected” and with the way the film was marketed I found this ending to be a stroke of genius.

    I truly thought that this film would end with a few of the new young characters alive and ready to carry the franchise forward for a new generation. Yet we get no young survivors and instead in what could be deemed the ultimate cliched ending the original survivors continue to survive as they have all along.

    I really enjoyed the film… it was shot and acted way better than I expected and ultimately, for the most part, I found Williamson’s script to be very clever and well executed. (My only regret was that they didn’t have Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby survive her wounds and carry on the franchise… I thought she was really great but would have thrown a thorn in KW’s ending).

    • http://www.twitter.com/chasewhale Chase Whale

      I agree with you that Kirby should have lived, and she still may be alive (she was left for dead).

      As for the killing the series with an unexpected ending, what’s wrong with that? SCREAM was a game-changeer when it killed off its biggest star in the first 10 minutes. Having what’shername escape could have taken the series in a new direction.

      I want to completely agree with you that Williamson’s script was clever because it was very smart, but I’m not supposed to accurately predict the killer within the first 20 minutes.

      What REALLY bothered me about our killers is this: both of them weight a buck ten wet, so it’s very unbelievable they could do some of the killings they did. Grrrrr I’M SO ANGRY!

    • http://www.twitter.com/chasewhale Chase Whale

      I agree with you that Kirby should have lived, and she still may be alive (she was left for dead).

      As for the killing the series with an unexpected ending, what’s wrong with that? SCREAM was a game-changeer when it killed off its biggest star in the first 10 minutes. Having what’shername escape could have taken the series in a new direction.

      I want to completely agree with you that Williamson’s script was clever because it was very smart, but I’m not supposed to accurately predict the killer within the first 20 minutes.

      What REALLY bothered me about our killers is this: both of them weight a buck ten wet, so it’s very unbelievable they could do some of the killings they did. Grrrrr I’M SO ANGRY!

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