‘Scream 4’ at 10: Checking Out the Wacky White Privilege of True Crime
Scream 4 is a hell of a parody and a reboot.
Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson are back at the wheel, but the vehicle of horror has changed. Gone are our severed house phone lines, masculine anxieties, and revenge killers. Now, we have cell phones and a pointed examination of the current youth’s obsession with Internet fame and true crime.
I myself have been an on-and-off member of the true crime community since I was a teenager. My introductory case was the Manson murders, a now infamous case that needs no rehashing here. I was about 13 or 14 when I read about it. From there, it was a slippery slope into true crime documentaries, Wikipedia pages, and serial killer websites. I loved watching shows like “Deadly Women” and “Fatal Attraction.” I was obsessed with every sordid detail.
Later on, I would find out that this was pretty normal for my age and gender. We were all, apparently, just into that sort of thing! In college, a friend sheepishly admitted her own past true crime obsessions. We exchanged serial killer knowledge like baseball cards.
Another girl admitted that she had a “thing” for Charles Manson. She even played his music in the office one night for us. We…distanced ourselves from her. Despite its morbid nature, our own true crime addictions never crossed that important line between dramatized events and real life.
There’s two major theories about our true crime obsession: that us ladies use true crime as a blueprint for survival or that we use it as a form of escapism.
I’ve been taught how to protect myself from rape and murder since I was a pre-teen. I’m not watching The Night Stalker documentary for safety tips. I’m watching it because I’ve had a bad day and I want to take my mind off things for a few hours.
Apparently, according to Scream 4, this hobby also means that I could safely get away with murder.
Don’t tell Sheriff Dewey on me, though.
The old Scream cast is back, older, and reckoning with some gnarly mid-30s crises. Sidney has embraced her victimhood and turned it into advocacy, writing a successful self-help book. In a role reversal, Gale’s stuck in Woodsboro now and trying — unsuccessfully — to be a fiction writer. She and Dewey are married and honestly could use a counselor.
She’s the type of victim that true crime loves to talk about: a cute little white girl from a small town.
But when a new round of murders begin, the trio bands together again. They soon realize that this scary movie has new rules and that they better learn them quickly if they want to survive.
The new teen cast is more than happy to walk them through it.
In fact, they’re obsessed with the original surviving trio and the murders. Two of the boys, film club geeks Charlie (Rory Culkin) and Robbie (Eric Knudsen), even celebrate the anniversary of the murders every year by hosting a Stab — the in-universe version of Scream — marathon with their peers, much to the distaste of our original characters.
“One generation’s tragedy is another one’s joke,” Dewey remarks early on in the film.
As always, our boyishly handsome officer is correct.
Having been literal children during the events of the first film, these new kids are as irreverent and tactless as they come. To them, the massacre happened ages ago. It’s not frightening; it’s the only claim to fame that their boring little town has.
That’s apparently enough of a motive for, you guessed it, more murders!
In classic Scream style, the killer — well, one of them — is yet another person who has some issue with Sidney. It can’t really be a Scream movie unless someone has it out for her. Mark my words: the killer in Scream 5 will be her mother who somehow faked her own death.
This time around, it’s her cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and the aforementioned Charlie. They want to “remake” the original massacre and emerge as the only survivors, new age Sidney and Randy come again.
She [Jill] is able to see people’s view of her, a view of victimhood, and manipulate it to her advantage.
It’s obvious that they’re more like a heterosexual Billy and Stu. The fact that they’re in a secret romantic relationship that isn’t revealed until their murderous intent is just lends post-mortem credence to a queer reading of the first film. Bonus points when she betrays him by literally stabbing him in the heart.
Implications aside, their main motive is fame. They film the murders, intending to pin them on someone else and upload them to social media for clout. Jill is jealous of Sidney, equating her victimhood with some kind of morbid celebrity status.
“I don’t need friends. I need fans,” she says after having slain her entire group friend group.
Scream 4 doesn’t hide its disdain for social media. Murders get shared on the Internet before Dewey and the cops can break the news. Robbie livestreams his entire life — and death — to the annoyance of our older characters.
In particular, Jill’s desire to be famous by way of trauma is pretty much a retroactive prediction of the times: when was the last time you saw someone trending for a good reason?
The fact that her friends, boyfriend, and mother must die to achieve it doesn’t bother her in the slightest. If anything, she sees it as a mild obstacle. She even self-inflicts several wounds — including throwing herself through a glass table with little more than a bored sigh — to lend credibility to her story as sole survivor.
It sure helps that she’s pretty, young, and white.
Before her death, the news outlets are glowing and gushing over her as a “hero” and “sole survivor.” She’s the type of victim that true crime loves to talk about: a cute little white girl from a small town. Had she killed Sidney, she totally would have gotten away with it!
Scream has never done a good job with race depictions. The second film made a tongue-in-cheek reference to the whiteness of horror in its cold open, gave Sidney a black best friend, and gave Gale a black cameraman. That was about it. The alabaster sheen of its characters has rarely been discussed.
This time around, though it’s never said out loud, it seems to be a major theme. Jill is able to hatch this crazy plan and almost achieve it because of her privilege. She capitalizes on her attributes and how graphic Internet content gets more attention.
She’s a direct lens into a real problem with the true crime community.
I have to say, it’s changed a lot since I first became a part of it. With Netflix pumping out crime content on the regular now — and skirting ever closer to victim exploitation than actual storytelling — true crime has seen a massive interest boom.
People, mostly young white women from my research, think it’s okay to be explicitly horny for serial killers now. When I was growing up, people dug Manson. Before that, it was the Columbine killers. Now, it’s Ted Bundy. I blame that Netflix biopic starring Zack Efron — and they seem to blame themselves a little bit too.
DISCLAIMER: due to its disturbing content, I’ve chosen to not provide links to the following things I’ve discovered while researching this article. You’re all more than welcome to look them up yourselves.
I’ve seen Jeffrey Dahmer fanart. I’ve seen people asking others to join their Ted Bundy roleplay fantasies on Discord. One woman out there in the world has a Columbine tattoo. There are pages and pages of serial killer fanfiction on the Internet, countless school shooter memes, and even a TikTok account of one girl documenting her ongoing theory that she is a reincarnated Ted Bundy victim.
These extremists are not too far off from the Woodsboro teens. They’re white, killer-obsessed, and seem to actively seek controversy for attention. They can fantasize about this shit because they’ve never lived it — just as I can sit and watch a true crime show to “decompress.” There’s no stake in it for us.
The Scream 4 kids also have the police on their side. They receive complete protection and zero suspicion from Woodsboro PD. As a group of white teenagers in a predominantly white town, they couldn’t possibly be the murderers. Dewey doesn’t even consider Jill to be a suspect until she’s almost killed Sidney a second time!
It’s rehashed again and again, both in and out of Scream 4: nothing is more sad than a dead, beautiful, and young white woman. If she survives, nothing is more triumphant.
Sidney is encouraged throughout the film to use her victimhood for monetary gain. The idea disgusts her. To Jill — and to certain true crime wackos — this idea is appealing, attainable, and a guaranteed ticket to infamy.
This, I would argue, makes Jill one of the more dangerous Ghostface killers. She’s the one who comes closest to murdering Sidney. She is able to see people’s view of her, a view of victimhood, and manipulate it to her advantage.
Honestly, Jill walked so Rose from Get Out could run.
Scream 4 is a rip-roaring good time for a sequel. It’s grounded in believability like Halloween H20, but still has the wacky sequel kills of any franchise (looking at you, Friday the 13th) running out of creative death scenes. Letterboxes and defibrillators are severely abused here, folks.
It’s fun, but in a movie of quippy one-liners, the message that isn’t verbalized is what screams the loudest. Jill almost wins because she takes advantage of the very system that benefits her.
Likewise, true crime content subtly upholds this discriminatory system by focusing on white stories. It’s no surprise, then, when some of its fans attempt murders of their own. They feel safe in doing so. Even if they’re caught, they’ll likely be brought in alive.
Jill, by virtue of skin color, will still achieve her sought-after fame. A little thing like death isn’t going to stop her.
“Scream 4” is available for streaming on Amazon Prime through an AMC+ subscription.