Scream 4: On Remakes, Reboots and Reality

Written by LiverAlone (Scott Kessinger) for

If there were justice in the universe, Scream 4 would go down as one of the great cinema fake-outs. All along, we were told Scream 4 would be a pseudo-reboot to the series, a passing-of-the-torch tale that would introduce a new generation cast to carry the series onward through a new trilogy, headed by Emma Roberts as Jill, insinuated to be “The New Sidney.” The trailer directly touted its “new generation” and Roberts herself talked up her role in interviews as the apparent new face of Scream.

Spoiler Warning

…And then the movie came out, and anyone who’s seen it knows the story: Jill was the killer, and every last one of the new kids got put on the chopping block, leaving our OG trinity of Sidney, Gale and Dewey as the main survivors. All this reboot talk turned out to be an utter sham.

Scream 4 being a false reboot is, I believe, its raison d’ĂȘtre, and as such it’s probably the most memorable piece of cinematic tomfoolery since… well, since the original Scream plastered Drew Barrymore’s face on its entire poster to fool people into thinking she was the star. But aside from being a nifty twist, why make Jill the villain and kill off the new cast? What does it all mean?

There are two keys to understanding what Scream 4 is all about: first is when Kirby must answer the killer’s question with a title of a horror remake, and she rapid-fire lists off a seemingly never-ending series of remakes that would be comical if it weren’t such a tense, desperate scene (and, indeed, the trailer used this dialogue as a comic punchline). This one’s pretty easy: Scream 4 says there are too many remakes. Virtually every popular horror series of the last few decades has been remade, and according to Scream 4, it’s all just kind of ridiculous.

The second key is Jill’s motivation: she wants easy fame. Even if you take away the fact that she’s a murderer, Jill would still be evil, because she’s a cheat, a fraud. “I don’t need friends, I need fans,” she says, and “You don’t need to accomplish anything, you just need to have fucked up shit happen to you.” Jill covets Sidney’s fame, she wants to be The New Sidney, but she isn’t because she doesn’t do anything to earn it, and rather must scheme and fake her way there (there is a slight right-wing libertarian bent to Scream 4 here that I have no idea is intentional or not).

Reality (and lack thereof)

Scream 4 argues that Jill is inferior to Sidney because she isn’t genuine. She isn’t ‘real.’ And it’s this un-reality that is at the heart of Scream 4. Probably the most succinct description of the concept behind the original Scream trilogy is “what if a horror movie happened in the real world?” This idea could be the basis of its own article (and come to think of it, I might just write it), but the universe of the original Scream is meant to be as ‘real’ as a movie can be.

Not so with Scream 4. We’re immersed in “Movie Universe” here: the naturalistic look of the original trilogy is replaced with cinematography that desaturates the colors somewhat and has Hollywood bloom lighting throughout (the shines of the blades, for example, are big, soft and fuzzy); the gore is ramped up to unrealistic levels (blood all over the walls in just a few minutes?); bumbling incompetent cops (and why isn’t the FBI involved?) and an idiot publicist that leaves the safety of her vehicle and doesn’t call 911 are characters this time around. It says a lot that it is no longer easy to tell where Stab ends and Scream begins.

According to Scream 4, the more sequels you have to a concept that doesn’t call for it, the more ridiculous things get, as evidenced by the growing craziness of the in-universe Stab franchise. And while Scream 4 doesn’t have anything as out-there as Stab 5’s time travel, the very idea of Scream 4 is actually absurd on its face when you think about it: being targeted by seven different serial killers is not something that has happened to anyone in the history of the world, ever. Hollywood meddling (both the in-universe Hollywood that pumps out Stab flicks as well as our actual Hollywood that made Scream 4 itself) has transformed the universe of Scream into one that simply can’t be reality.

What happens to long-running movie series that are exhausted of sequels? They get rebooted, of course. But Scream 4 argues that reboots really aren’t any better, because like Jill, they’re not any more real.

It’s important to note, though, that Jill is specifically a bad, inferior reboot: she’s a soul-less cash-in trying to capitalize on the original’s (in this case Sidney’s) name. There can be good remakes: John Carpenter remade The Thing because the original was one of his favorite movies and he wanted to have a take closer to the short story it was based on; the producers of The Fly remake genuinely wanted to see what would happen with a more modern take. But A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010, for example, was made entirely because Friday the 13th 2009 had a splashy opening weekend and so the new Krueger pic was put on the fast-track in order to capitalize.

The message, then, is that not only are there too many remakes, but that they’re being made for the wrong reasons.

It’s interesting that the end of Scream 4 suggests that Jill, for a short time at least, will obtain the fame she was looking for. Much like A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 had an impressive opening weekend (much more so than Scream 4’s, sadly), but ultimately that remake hasn’t had a very good reception and a year later the studio seems reluctant to carry on with that series further. It would seem that Scream 4 is correct in that what is real, what is genuine, is what has staying power.

“Don’t fuck with the original,” indeed.

By LiverAlone (Scott Kessinger), a freelance writer who runs the site Watch Night of the Living Dead

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