Scream 4 (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl
Never seen any of the Scream franchise. And yet their ethos has never even been a mystery—like, “what’s the deal with that scary movie, it’s about scary movies?” Like also how I’ve never seen American Idol, eaten at a Chick-fil-A, or listened to even a single song by Lady Gaga: their meaning as little splotches of candy-colored culture-poop on the vast sidewalk of media is instantly intuited and adroitly stepped around. Some products don’t need to be seen to be heard. Scream was the lay-man’s materialization of certain tendencies, or sets of jargon, haunting certain sectors of certain academic alcoves during certain decades of the last millennia, and its knowingness was both prescient and belated: in 1996, as I remember it, we were all still adolescents just realizing that a highly cultivated certain attitude could constitute a kind of epistemology unto itself—ways and levels of ironic awareness, the intricacies of which conferred some painfully pleasurable (dis)ease, some luminescent tumescence…in the ‘90s were we not all initiated into the humid bathhouses of the post-modern? Did we not dip toes in the tepid, bacteria-swarming water, flop our pudgy, bikinied bellies in the green murk, inhale the wet, musty funk of our immediate, pop-culturey past as it turned instantly and nauseatingly to barely-comprehended idiolect in ritual make-out banter? Isn’t that what Scream, with its sudden plunging of middle-America into the bright yellow pages of Genre Theory for Dummies was all about? Or did I actually miss something?
Scream 4 confirmed, for me, that I had missed nothing by staying away from that particular over-crowded, miserable, and garishly lit pool. Mark may try to convince you that this movie is fun, “like having sex when you’re drunk.” And yet drunk sex often leaves one with guilt, paranoia, infections—a set of real and really uncomfortable realities. Three days after my initiation into the venerable Scream-iverse, I can recall nothing of its codes, mores, and hues, other than Neve Campbell now simultaneously looks svelte and puffy. Also sad. Scream 4 tries really, really hard to be “contemporary”—to prove that its schtick is still meaningful, its currency still pegged to the market of the popular imagination. Once or twice it succeeds. The “Ghost Face” voice is now an app: smart. The opening Matryoshka of movie scenes: also smart. The shrill monologue some tween actress delivers wherein she informs a puffy—yet svelte, yet sad—Neve Campbell of the “new reality of the Internet: it’s not what you do, it’s what gets done to you BITCH!!!!”: not so smart. I couldn’t help but feel that Scream’s kind of self-awareness has a shelf life. Acknowledging your own awareness of the codes and conventions and constraints and reactions and expectations of whatever little mound of culture-turf you’ve claimed is a good activity, but it’s not quite an art. It’s also not exactly entertainment. It’s more like toil—its repetitiveness sunk to mere labor.