Plenty of people would be content to come up with one original, fresh and popular idea for a story. Having done that, however, a lot of those same people might experience the pressure to keep producing in order not to feel the threat of failure. How ironic is it that the very drive to avoid failure is often the thing that diminishes an artist’s esteem in the public consciousness?
Kevin Williamson appears to be an example of this quandary. With his initial splash in the form of Scream, he was in many minds the latest, greatest, up and coming screenwriter and the horror writer of his generation. Unfortunately for his film career, several more entries in the genre shaped his reputation as simply “that guy that writes scary movies,” and now, it appears to some, that he is forced once again to return to the same story that started it all to try to remain relevant. Sure, his defenders can always claim that he has a lot of smart statements to make about the current reboot culture in horror—and heaven knows someone needs to say something about that phenomenon—but how high should hopes be for Scream 4?
The rules of a reboot would seem to dictate that a story can be updated, but never quite recapture the magic of the original. Just because the film technology has advanced in the past 30 years is no reason to remake beloved (or even forgotten) stories from those days. In fact, often the grit and creativity that were required to make these stories back in the day contributes to those versions being better than the reboots. Will Williamson and Craven defy the odds this time and make the Don Quixote of the Reboots the way the first Scream did for eighties Slasher films? Or will we witness a well-made-but-somehow-less-satisfying take of their older story, the way last year’s reboot of Craven’s other creation, Nightmare, turned out?
Scream was a great film because it managed to comment on the genre while it simultaneously created one of its best entries. The characters were self-aware, but existed in a story that felt real enough that the viewer enjoyed the “meta” while still having a story that worked independently of it. In fact, compared to many of the pulp stories that the film was critiquing, Scream saw the slasher story return to its genuinely puzzling mystery roots. There was a reason to follow the story beyond the jumps and the gore—even beyond the wit that the film exercised in jabbing its predecessors.
Once the franchise kicked in and the inevitable sequels emerged, all of that was gone. The mystery took a back seat to the jumps, the kills, and—in a case of greatness collapsing under its own weight—the self-awareness. It became too hard to balance the true raison d’être of this sort of film: a mystery with scares, with the formula of a Scream film: the meta-commentary.
That is the question that the fans of Scream will go into viewings of Scream 4 wondering. Is there a story to be had here, or are we simply going to send up the movies Platinum Dunes and the like have been making for the past decade?