Anchor Bay // 2011 // 111 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // October 4th, 2011
New Decade. New Rules.
It's impossible to underestimate just how influential the original Scream has been on the horror genre since its release in 1996. In many ways expanding on the themes explored in the under-appreciated Wes Craven's New Nightmare, Scream combined a young, hip cast, with a deconstruction of the slasher movie that was both refreshing, scary, and blessed with a dark comic sensibility. It also did wonders for Drew Barrymore's career, thanks to a truly memorable prologue.
1997's Scream 2 played on the conventions one would expect of a horror sequel: a higher body count, more elaborate death sequences, and changes to the rules that govern horror movies. The film was also interesting for how it portrayed the media reaction to the events of the first film, with the fictional Stab movie franchise being introduced, and a film study class where college kids discussed the horror genre whilst a new killer stalked their campus. If it failed to match the original, Scream 2 at least proved entertaining.
Released in 2000, Scream 3 suffered in part due to unforeseen events. The tragic events at Columbine High School meant audiences were understandably less interested in seeing college kids slaughtering each other, and changes were made to the screenplay to reflect this. More importantly, the film as a whole failed as it became apparent that it had become too self-referential. Rather than deconstructing the horror genre, Scream 3 was deconstructing itself.
In 2008, it was announced that development on a fourth entry in the series was underway, with Wes Craven returning, along with the main (surviving) members of the cast. Better still, Kevin Williamson had signed on for writing duties, having been a no-show on Scream 3, though Ehren Kruger would be brought in for rewrites when Williamson was forced to leave due to contractual obligations. Depending on box office performance, Scream 4 is intended to be the start of a second trilogy. Having just seen Scream 4, that really is scary.
Having become a successful writer, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell, Wild Things) returns to her hometown of Woodsboro on the final leg of her book tour. No sooner has Sidney returned than the mysterious killer, Ghostface, makes an appearance. Suddenly the local high school kids must decide just what their favorite scary movie is, as Ghostface begins his latest rampage.
Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette, Never Been Kissed), and his wife Gale (Courtney Cox, Friends) find themselves drawn back into the thick of the action, as Sidney attempts to stay alive, and keep her cousin, Jill, (Emma Roberts, Aquamarine) safe.
With Scream 3 having closed off the original Scream trilogy with a whimper, there are only two possible reasons for Craven, Cox, Campbell, and Arquette to return to the gravy train. The first reason would be money. It's arguable that since Scream 3, none of the chief cast, nor director Wes Craven, have been pulling in the audiences or making huge waves with any of their subsequent work. Of course, this implies a return to the Scream franchise for all the wrong reasons, and is hardly a recipe for success; although it is a well-known fact that horror fans are an easy target for screwing over due to their slavish devotion to the genre they love. The second possible reason for returning to the adventures of Sidney and Ghostface would be a franchise reinventing idea, something to redefine a series that had become overly reliant on ridiculous twists and had lost its way.
Guess which seems the most likely?
Despite supposedly heralding the start of a new trilogy, Scream 4 feels too similar to the previous installments in the series. Suspicious-looking boyfriends still creep up on their girlfriends through their bedroom windows, and have a nasty habit of appearing just after Ghostface has sliced someone up; everyone talks like a horror movie geek; and characters still insist on putting themselves in unnecessarily dangerous situations. Old tricks get overplayed very quickly, as does a movie-within-a-movie (within-a-movie) gag, which completely renders nearly 10 minutes of the film irrelevant -- despite a couple of surprise cameos. The names may be different, but the story is very much the same.
There's an unwarranted snobbishness toward recent horror trends that resides at the heart of Scream 4. For a film that opens with a pithy dismissal of the torture-porn genre, arguing the likes of Saw lack character development and are "not scary...just gross," what exactly does Scream 4 offer? With horror remakes being the target this time out, it seems the writers decided they needn't come up with new ideas themselves, and simply retread old ground, hoping the viewer finds what is effectively a remake of the original Scream clever rather than lazy. A discussion at the school's Cinema Club, where the kids debate the fascination with rebooting old horror franchises smacks of desperation, as the writers try to justify their own lack of new material. Scream 4 desperately looks to make itself relevant by attempting to dissect the horror genre once again, but lacks the wit and insight of previous installments to pull it off. References to Facebook and Twitter seem destined to date the movie, as its fascination with modern technology threatens to overtake the horror elements of the screenplay. More pressingly, having openly badmouthed the Saw franchise for its lack of depth, Scream 4 is amazingly anemic itself, nothing but a poor whodunit, with characters that are stereotypes. Yes, the stereotypical nature of the characters is intentional -- I get that -- but that still doesn't excuse the sloppily written roles.
The major problem with Scream 4 comes from the disconnect between Sidney and the kids who make up the lion's share of the victims. Is Sidney supposed to be the main character, or is it her cousin Jill and her group of copy and paste friends who are supposed to be taking our focus? It's never really made clear, as the film feebly tries to pass the torch to a new generation. The result is what feels like a parody of Scream, with Sidney, Dewey, and Gale making cameo appearances. To be fair, the two disparate groups do come together during the final act, which sees the killer revealed and their motives detailed. To say it's an unsatisfying conclusion is an understatement; and if Craven, Williamson, and Kruger think this passes muster as a deconstruction of the remake/reboot philosophy that plagues the genre presently, they are very much mistaken. There is the slightest semblance of an interesting idea here, when the killer explains the lengths they are prepared to go to in order to "remake" the original killings, which brutally rips up modern pop culture and the quest to attain fame at all costs. Thanks to Kruger's inability to shape characters, and Willamson's refusal to take risks, even this falls flat. One good speech does not a good movie make, and Williamson and Kruger would do well to remember that cramming all your best ideas into one monologue is not enough to make up for an otherwise languid 110 minutes.
Scream 4 suffers from an inconsistent tone, and lacks the comedic spark of the first two installments, yet isn't dark enough to play as a straight horror, either. There are also too many characters who feel like red herrings, included simply to throw the viewer of the scent of the real killer. In part due to the repetitious nature of the screenplay, Craven seems unwilling or unable to deliver any new thrills to please gore hounds. Too often the same old jump scares are called back into play, and there's no attempt to create a real sense of impending doom. Craven is living of former glories, with his direction as uninspired as you'd expect following his recent output. He basically delivers a watered-down version of Scream and shows little to no interest in presenting a fresh take on the slasher movie; it's sad to say, but at this point in his career, Craven is coasting on fumes.
The cast is unspectacular to say the least. Campbell, Cox, and Arquette are just going through the motions, whilst the youngsters -- who include Hayden Panettiere, (Heroes) and Rory Culkin (Signs) -- are just playing at being in a Scream movie, and are (intentionally, one would assume) amalgamations of characters from the original trilogy.
The DVD itself is impressive, with a quality 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer leading the way. For a film so dependent on night scenes, it's reassuring that the black levels are rock solid. Detail levels are good, even during darker sequences, and colors have a natural appearance. The picture remains sharp throughout. The 5.1 soundtrack is even better, with crystal clear sound effects and dialogue. The mix really encompasses the viewer, making excellent use of rear speakers.
The supplemental materials kick off with a commentary featuring director Wes Craven, and actresses Emma Roberts and Hayden Panettiere; Neve Campbell literally phones in her brief contribution to the track. Clearly Roberts and Panettiere were excited to have joined the franchise, but this enthusiasm does little to make up for a by-the-numbers commentary. Heavy on anecdotes, mostly from Panettiere, the commentary becomes more interesting when Craven pipes up with a tidbit on how scenes came together. "The Making of Scream 4" featurette contains numerous cast and crew interviews, as well as behind-the-scenes footage. There are a number of deleted and extended scenes, which includes an alternative opening and extended end sequence (which, trust me, was not needed). There is also a gag reel included, for people who can't get enough of actors fluffing their lines.
Scream 4 struggles to marry the old and the new, and feels more like a film series treading water than progressing. The meta commentary feels desperately tired this time out. If this is the start of a new trilogy, then you can count me out. On the evidence of this, the Scream franchise is dead in the water. Oh, and while we're at it, am I the only one getting tired of the way studios title their sequels? I mean, come on! Scre4m?
Review content copyright © 2011 Paul Pritchard; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted/Extended Scenes
* Gag Reel