Directed by suspense master and director of the first trilogy, Wes Craven, Scream 4 is the newest installment in the acclaimed franchise that ushered in a new wave of horror in the 1990’s. In Scream 4, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), now author of a self-help book, returns home to Woodsboro on the last stop of her book tour. There she reconnects with Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale (Courtney Cox), who are now married, as well as her cousin Jill (Emma Roberts). Unfortunately Sidney’s appearance also brings about the return of Ghost Face, putting Sidney, Gale, and Dewey, along with Jill, her friends (Hayden Panattiere, Rory Culkin) and the whole town of Woodsboro in danger.
Scream 4 7.5
eyelights: Neve Campbell. Sidney Prescott. the ending. its commentary on celebrity culture.
eyesores: the younger cast. the picture’s lack of humour. the bland confrontations.
“You forgot the first rule of remakes: Don’t fuck with the original!”
‘Scream 4’ is a suspense thriller by Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson (with the help of Ehren Kruger) and which stars returning players Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette as well as Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen. The picture is the fourth-biggest grosser of the franchise with 100 million at the box office.
Frankly, I never had any plan to see it. While I’m a huge fan of the original trilogy, it’s exactly that: a trilogy. It wasn’t designed to be more than three films. Doing a fourth one felt dishonest to me, and it led me to wonder about the motives of the people involved, all of whom hadn’t had quite the same success since ‘Scream 3‘ a decade prior.
The only way I was going to see the ‘Scream 4’ was if the promised second trilogy, comprised of ‘Scream 5’ and ‘Scream 6’ became a reality – otherwise, ‘Scream 4’ would not only ruin the original three, it would be the start of something uncompleted. That seemed foolish and an exercise in futility, so I decided against seeing it.
Even after I bought the series on blu-ray (when it was finally, belatedly, released!), I had no plan to see ‘Scream 4’. Even though a close friend of mine, whom I introduced to the series and who is a fan, told me that the new picture actually had some clever bits and recommended it to me, I felt it was better to just wait it out.
I’m a patient person.
But the new trilogy was never to be. Although the new movie was a hit, it was the least popular of the whole franchise, and plans for a sequel appear to have been dropped altogether; while the first three films were released in close succession, within four years, four years have passed and there isn’t even talk of ‘Scream 5’ anymore.
In fact, the series has now been unceremoniously relegated to the small screen, with a first set of episodes broadcast this year. Since then, on August 30 of this year, Wes Craven passed away (R.I.P.) from a battle with brain cancer. And, really, let’s be honest, what would another ‘Scream’ film be without Wes Craven himself?
So I threw in the towel. Sadly, there was no hope for the trilogy now. But I was no longer convinced that this final film could ruin the first three for me. And, given that my friend’s recommendation kept echoing in my mind, I decided that I might as well just give it a shot. I was hoping that he was right and that it would prove its worth.
It turns out that, in some respects, it did. And, in others not so much.
Released in 2011, ‘Scream 4’ revisits Sid, Dewey and Gale a full decade after the events of ‘Scream 3’. Sid has moved on and has become a best-selling author, writing about her experiences surviving the various Ghostface killers. Dewey is now the Woodsboro Sheriff, and is married with Gale, who is now a fiction writer.
But, on the anniversary of the original Woodsboro murders, a pair of teenagers are slaughtered by a new Ghostface. Evidence is planted in Sid’s car, who is in town for her book launch, making her a suspect and forcing her to stay in town until she is cleared. Then the attacks start over, and Sid, Dewey and Gale all separately try to find the killer.
By any standard, ‘Scream 4’ is a decent slasher/thriller. Compare it to most of its peers and it’s one of the good ones. The problem is that it measures up against its predecessors and this produces mixed results. After all, it’s the cleverness and freshness of the original that reinvigorated the horror genre. How could this one possibly match that?
‘Scream 4’ has its strengths and weaknesses:
- Sid is a much stronger character now. While she was always feisty and hardly your average horror film scream queen/victim, here she is more proactive, less tentative, less reactive. In ‘Scream 4’, she not only has dealt with her past, she doesn’t run away from the danger – she hunts it down. She’s a heroine. Nice. I love strong female role models.
- Dewey’s more mature, less risible, than he was in the past. He would have to be, if he’s to be the Woodsboro Sheriff. He still has brain farts, which I feel are in character even though he should have outgrown those by now (again, given his responsibilities), and at the end he’s far too clueless. But it’s a welcome improvement. You want to like the guy.
- Dewey has an awesome new deputy, Judy Hicks, who has a serious crush on her boss. She’s wide-eyed in his presence, but she’s respectful and knows to keep her distance just enough to keep it professional. I like that she’s ethical and that she’s a kick-@$$ cop to boot – she’s the Sheriff’s greatest asset. And a wicked new character.
- I love its jab at modern horror films, on the one hand poking fun at ‘Saw 4’ for having no plot (and being only about gross ways to kill people) and, on the other, making light of the fact that many of the major releases in the last decade have been remakes (ex: quizzed by Ghostface, a character goes through a whole slew of them at one point, illustrating that fact).
- I love its statements on celebrity culture; how, in the social media age, all that matters to a lot of people is the amount of exposure they get – whether that be through Twitter followers, Facebooks “friends”, online traffic, …etc. We’ve become so narcissistic and only feel validated if we gain people’s attention – as opposed to feeling validated via actual respect or love.
- In fact, there’s this terrific speech to that effect at the end (yes this counts as a separate point), in which one character discusses fame and modern youth’s desire and pursuit of instant celebrity instead of having to lead a real life. The glamour of celebrity is more appealing than setting traditional goals, no matter how elusive it is. Well said.
- The gimmicky opening that’s basically a movie inside a movie inside a movie. I didn’t find it clever in its execution and I sure as heck wish that the actresses weren’t so uniquely interchangeable, but I like the idea in principle. Give it some better dialogues and more engaging performers (Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell excepted) and… maybe.
- Gale is a whiny entitled brat. Okay, okay… this is probably in character, but I wish she’d matured in ten years. She’s utterly disrespectful of Dewey, embarrasses him in front of his staff and in public, makes unreasonable demands, is an @$$hole to people who don’t deserve it, …etc. Again, probably in character. But I couldn’t root for her.
- Plus she looked like she’s had too much plastic surgery. It was distracting.
- The younger main cast are all bloody bland, awfully so. Emma Roberts, who plays Jill, Sid’s cousin, is flavourless, as are her airbrushed friends. And the boys, two high school film club nerds (one of whom wears a camera on him at all times) are a bit unusual but otherwise unexceptional. Gone are the distinct personalities from the first and third films.
- Gale infiltrates the Stab-a-thon, a ‘Stab’ movie marathon that takes place in a deserted farmhouse, and places cameras everywhere to watch in case the killer shows up. She doesn’t warn the cops, of course, and no one notices her putting the cameras up right in plain sight. Yeah, okay. At least the outcome sorta made sense.
- The two cops watching Jill’s house (in which Sid stays) gets attacked and one of them is stabbed in the forehead – and proceeds to stumble out of the car, and blindly attempts to catch the killer. Wes Craven says that this is based on an actual incident, after seeing a documentary about it on TV. Fine. But, at first glance, it sounds like total B.S.
- Not enough clues and/or red herrings; the culprit could really be anyone, which is kind of boring. The main problem with ‘Scream 4’ is that there’s less of a whodunnit aspect to it and it doesn’t tease the brain as much. You’re not trying to solve it: you’re just waiting for the next attack, to see how it unfolds, and move on to the next one.
- The confrontations aren’t as kinetic either; the killer just kills his victims and that’s it. Boring. Real. But boring. Sure, there are a couple of moments when Ghostface takes a few blows from defiant potential victims and his/her ferocity makes up for it. But they’re rare, and they’re simply not credible – especially after you know who the killer is.
- The picture has more cheap scares rooted in music cues than in the previous films – and that’s a cop out for real suspense. It also relies on lame things like a doorknob breaking off, or a victim leaving the security of their hideout to look around, to build a scene. Sheesh… if anything, that’s exactly what the ‘Scream’ movies are supposed to spoof – not become.
- The killer slipped up by saying that he/she and Gale have matching wounds, even though it’s clear he/she couldn’t know. It was SO obvious that I got the impression that Dewey picked up on this and was purposely leading the killer on, to trap him/her. But, alas, it turns out that Gale needed to spell it out – likely for the dunces in the audience.
Le sigh. So much for the series’ cleverness.
- I’ve watched the picture a second time since the initial viewing and paid attention to the calls people were receiving, in light of who the killer is, to see if it made sense. They could happen. However, Ghostface is much taller and more vigourous than the real person ever could be. It doesn’t make sense. And that’s real nag.
All in all, ‘Scream 4’ is certainly no worse than your average slasher, and is largely better than most of them. But it fails to successfully meet the challenges set by its predecessors. Further to that, it doesn’t really tie into the original trilogy, much as it doesn’t appear to set the stage for another one. It’s like it doesn’t fit anywhere.
In that respect, it feels about as redundant as ‘Scream 2‘, which is arguably the worst of the franchise. You could stick with the trilogy and skip this one, and you haven’t actually missed anything. Granted, the commentary on modern obsessions is a nice touch, but even that feels undercooked. I’m not sure I’ll go back to this one often.
It’s a damned shame. If you’re gonna go back to the well, you better make it not just good, but great.
‘Scream 4’ certainly isn’t that.
Date of viewing: August 9, 2015