The horror and gore genre of video gaming has been around for decades, but in recent years the game mechanics have changed drastically. In the upcoming release ‘A Brutal and Bloody Rehash That Passes the Torch’ you will find yourself immersed in a gory spectacle which is sure to be one of 2018’s most anticipated titles.
Throughout the 1980s, horror fans were treated to countless tales of masked killers terrorizing suburban teenagers, with characters like Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and Jason Voorhees achieving such pop-culture fame that they became more like caricatures of an entire genre than maniacs capable of terrifying audiences. With films like The Silence of the Lambs and Jacob’s Ladder, the genre shifted into the realm of psychological thrillers in the early 1990s, thus killing out the slasher subgenre for good. Scream, directed by Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson, was released in 1996 and managed to not only be a riveting murder mystery in its own right, but also found ways to satirize weary slasher cliches and flip the horror film industry on its head. With this year’s Scream, fans will be reminded of the subgenre’s efficacy when it’s on fire, as well as the inherent problems of trying to rework a predictable notion.
A decade after the previous round of Ghostface killings, the community of Woodsboro is once again being targeted by a copycat murderer, only this time there’s no trace of original heroes Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), or Dewey Riley (David Arquette) connecting the victims. When a new pattern emerges, Sidney, Gale, and Dewey arrive to help, only to bring the carnage to a whole new level as our new group of heroes attempts to solve the fatal riddle.
Given how far the original films’ idea had been pushed by the time we came to Scream 4, finding fresh methods to break new ground for the franchise was a daunting assignment, but filmmakers Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett manage to make the most of the restraints. While past installments were known for stunt casting and unexpected fatalities in the opening sequences, the initial minutes of this film are reminiscent of the original. Drew Barrymore’s Casey, released in 1996, comments on the repetitious nature of slashers, while Scream, released this year, mocks the notion of “elevated horror” and genre attempts that strive to break away from the usual formula. While this is a Scream picture, it’s evident that it’s coming from a new generation of directors who have their finger on the pulse of the genre in ways that Craven began to lose touch with in subsequent episodes. This sets the tone for the viewer’s journey, with the story and general themes seeming quite current and relevant without ever feeling like it’s pandering to the audience for cheap praises.
This surely isn’t to say that the directors are attempting to reboot or entirely reimagine the nature of Scream, more that it feels as unconventional and ambitious for the current age of horror as the original film did, as opposed to setting out just to be the fifth entry in a long-running series. The usage of soundtrack, shadows, and surprises all conform to Craven’s tone, almost to the point where you could project this picture over the original and see parallels in plot structure and cycle surroundings. There are even instances that seem to reflect time-honored means of frightening the viewer, only to function as misdirects, demonstrating that this Scream isn’t only seeking to parody the current state of horror, but also long-held approaches to the genre. One of the most significant differences is that the brutality in this film is far more intense than in arguably any other Scream film, as it takes every opportunity to remind us that watching a razor-sharp knife slide into various parts of a victim is hard to beat when it comes to making us squirm in our seats. In this aspect, we’re given what may be the most terrifying and unforgiving Ghostface yet, one that seems bigger than life while being totally human.
Aside from the ways in which the Scream franchise satirizes the genre, another hallmark is that we encounter a number of characters and prospective murderers who, throughout the course of a film’s runtime, offer the viewer and on-screen peers evidence that they could be the ones responsible for these heinous acts. As soon as the picture begins, the audience will begin to speculate about Ghostface’s identity, which Scream faithfully recreates. Unfortunately, on a conceptual level, this becomes a limiting factor in the enjoyment of the film, because as the characters level accusations at one another, the audience can’t help but make their own predictions, which evolve over the course of the film, with the true identity of Ghostface not really coming as a surprise. Of course, this is true of almost every murder mystery in history, but the actual revelations and misdirections are unlikely to catch viewers off guard.
Thankfully, the rationale for the crimes serves as a reminder of how new the picture feels, with writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick channeling what made the first film so surprising. Scream 4 seemed contemporary by the time viewers got to it, but it still felt like it was presented from the viewpoint of someone who got their start in the genre 40 years ago, rather than being the work of up-and-coming voices. The present social media milieu might have easily been added into this Scream to give it a false feeling of contemporary, but instead, the DNA of the film brings that modernity, showing interactions between people that seem like they could have been plucked right from social media chatter. The characters employ language that many people have never heard spoken aloud before, yet they don’t make you squirm. With some viewers likely believing that the Scream series died with Wes Craven in 2015, this sequel represents those voices when it comes to knee-jerk, dismissive responses to resurrecting brands that are too far gone or reinvented only to cash in on a recognizable label.
While Sidney, Gale, and Dewey have befriended a variety of individuals in earlier films (some of them go on to be killers, certainly), this picture finally seems like it may transfer the baton to a new generation of characters. We’ve seen a recent surge of new stories being told in established franchises that have to find ways to honor the past while forging a path forward, with Scream managing to stick the landing of honoring the original stars and what they mean to the series while not feeling like glorified cameos, as well as setting the stage that our new survivors might not be done with Ghostface for good.
While the picture manages to strike a balance between paying homage to its predecessors and avoiding obsolete cliches, it is nonetheless hampered by the constraints of its title and the slasher subgenre as a whole, and delivers nothing more than a gruesome succession of inexplicable killings. For some, this will be horrific than enough and all they anticipate from such an undertaking, but others who believed Scream could add as much to the tired formula as the first picture will undoubtedly be disappointed. It is, however, both literally and spiritually for Wes, as a love letter to Craven and the effect he had on the genre throughout his career, which is well worth the price of admission for Ghostface fans.
3 out of 5 stars
The film Scream will be released in cinemas on January 14th.