Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Kevin Williamson
Starring Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, Anna Paquin, Kirsten Bell
SCREAM 4 (do I have to call it SCRE4M?) wants to have it both ways. It wants to make fun of the horror genre as if it was better than all of that, yet it still wants to function as a horror film itself. But in order to do this successfully, both the meta-criticism and the horror have to be top notch. Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson pretty much achieved this in the very first SCREAM, but since then the SCREAM films became the horror clichés they tried oh so hard to comment on. As the movies went on, the plots got more predictable and scares got lamer. I was hoping that a decade off from the franchise would somehow give the folks behind the film enough time to harness what made the first one work. Sadly, that’s just not the case with SCREAM 4.
Those looking for a spoiler laden review naming the killer of the film and who will survive will be sorely disappointed here. Even though I didn’t particularly like the film, I won’t spoil the big mystery. Let’s just say that the reveal of who the killer is definitely is one of the lamer reveals of the series and leave it at that. The momentum screeching exposition by this character explaining each and every move they took to make sense of the film (which lobs out red herrings like a red herring cannon next to a pond well stocked with red herrings…ok, I know that was bad). But the identity of the killer is not what soured SCREAM 4 for me.
The film starts out promising and cleverly incorporates horror and comedy (the two elements that made the first one work so well) in a series of false starts that were genuinely fun. This opening sequence, by far, is the most enjoyable part of the film. It’s a clever and fun way of starting out this SCREAM like the other SCREAM’s while making it wholly original. I wish the fun would have continued at this level for the rest of the film.
The main problem of SCREAM is that it isn’t scary in the slightest. Due to multiple sequels and parodies, Ghostface just isn’t scary anymore, and here, the way Craven frames him, he is even less scary. Sure there are a couple of good jump scares, but I attribute them to the sound guy who mallet-fists a keyboard at full volume rather than the content of the scene. Every time Ghostface showed up, all I could think about was the SCARY MOVIE “wassap!” sequence. Craven and Williamson probably have it in them to make the character scary again, but with one or two exceptions (there was a good sequence where we think the killer is calling from the closet that works well), the killer just isn’t that scary.
Another problem is that the new generation of cast members aren’t nearly as likable as the original crew (or even that of the sequels prior). Sure there’s the chick from HEROES and there’s a Culkin, but none of them match the caliber of the original cast. The reason why the first worked was because the cast was filled with talented young actors (and Matthew Lillard…JOKE!). With SCREAM 4, it feels like casting just plucked whoever was at the food court on the WB lot at random and gave them a role. When you don’t care whether or not the cast lives or dies, you don’t give a shit when they are being chased by a killer.
The cast that do return (Cox, Arquette, and Campbell) just seem to be going for a paycheck here. Arquette’s Dewey has been elevated to sheriff status and spends the entire film arriving just shy of the nick of time and looking befuddled. Cox as Gale is given a bit of a meatier role with her character trying to write a new novel about the new murders while struggling with an understanding of the advancements in technology and media. Campbell has the same problem as Arquette, with her Sidney character serving only to react to all of the events around her and never really mattering in the equation. These three leads are barely present in the third act as the WB kids take center stage in the final showdown. Even professionals like Mary McDonnell fart through their lines with little to no energy. And don’t get me started at how ultimately lame Anthony Anderson and Adam Brody are as a pair of bumbling cops (one line in particular delivered by Anderson is definitely the biggest groaner of the film).
Speaking of groaners, the film is littered with them. The snappy dialog and sharp criticism of the genre just isn’t present in SCREAM 4. But here’s the thing, although I acknowledge the original SCREAM as a pretty good movie, I loathed what it represented and what stemmed from its success. Yes, the horror genre needed a reboot. It needed someone to stand up and call it out for its repetitive, formulaic trappings. SCREAM served that purpose and popped up at a time when horror was pretty stagnant. Being an avid fan of the genre, it got pretty annoying though after a time when every cliché listed in those films were deemed stupid or beneath the characters, writers, directors, and even viewers of the film. The thing is, a lot of those clichés, in talented hands still work. They’re still effective. They can still scare you. The most important failure in SCREAM 4 is that it has the balls to look down on scary films by casting the fans as nerds and weirdos, by listing aspects of the movies over and over and deeming them lame, by having the characters themselves not like horror films in a nudge, nudge, wink, wink fashion—without proving it can be scary itself. The final moments of this film are supposed to have us revved up to a fever pitch as the heroes and the killer battle it out. If I had the nerve to say how stupid these types of films are in a meta-commentary, I damn well better make a superior horror film. SCREAM 4 isn’t that as the last act fails miserably because of the lameness of the killer and the effectiveness of the story behind it.
At its best, SCREAM 4 is a remake of SCREAM. Though SCREAM made the slasher movie cool again with decent acting, funny quips (I still say “Liver alone!” on occasion), and somewhat astute observations on the genre, SCREAM 4 plays like the endless remakes that have overcome the industry these days with little else to add to the conversation. Though it started out strong, much like the bulk of the remakes out there these days, I could have done without SCREAM 4.