Scream 4 (2011)

Scream 4’s tagline is New Decade, New Rules, but sadly it’s more like New Decade, Same Franchise, No Surprises. It is oddly charming and always fun, but the lack of innovation and sameness may frustrate some. Scre4m is a reasonable addition to a reasonable franchise.

In 1996 Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven provided an instant horror hit; the savvy, sexy, smart and self-knowing Scream, which dropped into popular culture the image of Ghostface, the always threatening question “What’s your favourite scary movie?” and the lesson that you never, EVER say “I’ll be right back”.

A sequel naturally followed and was post-modernly excused for being absolutely bollocks because, you know, horror sequels are always rubbish. Geddit? Then in 2000 Craven rolled out the coffin-nail 3rd in the trilogy, which attempted to send up Hollywood but simply infuriated fans by blowing up condos and giving Jenny McCarthy a job. Then Scary Movie turned up and drowned the franchise in a fountain of semen, clouds of marijuana smoke and a cavalcade of Wayans.

Eleven years later and like every horror movie villain, it’s back from the dead, seemingly resurrected for nothing more than a quick buck and a career injection for flagging artistes Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courtney Cox, Williamson and Craven. Craven being the word here. It might sound cruelly cynical, but Scream 4’s appearance during a lull in the Wayans pathetic parodies suggests a desperate attempt to relive past glories. And does it? Kind of… it’s just they seem to have forgotten it’s not 1996 any more…

So Sidney Prescott (Campbell) is back. Having been a victim for years she’s turned it all around and published her autobiography “Out of Darkness”, and her tour rather tastelessly ends in Woodsboro, the location of the original horrific murders that destroyed her life. Even more tastelessly, she’s turned up for a book signing on the week of the Woodsboro Murders “anniversary”, where the horrific butchering of innocents is now celebrated because it spawned the Stab movie franchise and put Woodsboro on the map.

Then people get stabbed. A lot. And then we find out who’s doing it. The plot doesn’t exactly stretch itself any further than that, and we get to watch the plethora of suspects either slowly become even more suspicious or even more completely dead. Everyone’s a suspect!! Well of course they are, considering previous killers have been literally anyone.

Scream 4 is disarmingly charming, if you excuse the phrase, and it feels like you’re visiting old friends or a new episode of a much loved TV series. It does not, however, work as a stand alone film. Knowledge of the previous Scream films is almost essential to make it work, and although this is probably shirked off as mocking the faults of all horror sequels, it’ll still be a questionable mess for newcomers. True, it does feel almost like a remake by throwing us back into high school with the fresh faced likes of Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere and Rory Culkin, but it’s clearly a sequel.

The newcomers do very well, providing surprisingly likeable teen-adults that you genuinely don’t want to see die. Of the original trio, David Arquette and Neve Campbell have very little to do, mostly standing around looking worried and getting beaten or stabbed.

It is only Courtney Cox who gets a lot of the interesting legwork, being simultaneously irritating and oddly likeable in her transparent caricature of Gale Weathers (now Riley). She is once again a fame-hungry desperate hag who will do anything to snag a story… and it’s strangely endearing, kind of like when your gran tells a racist joke or farts during dinner; very unfortunate and crass, but it does raise a sad, forlorn smile of acceptance.

Again, I’m being cynical, but it’s difficult not to when something is craving to receive your adulation for being so very postmodern. Scream 4 really desperately wants to acknowledge horror film fans and BE acknowledged as lovingly sending up the genre by being super-smart and all “meta”… but if your core audience is supposed to be horror film geeks then please stop making mistakes! So much of Scream 4 is puzzling; the senselessness of Sidney’s return, the lack of instant and proper police protection (safe houses! Stab-proof vests! Come on guys!) And the odd absence of the FBI all adds to the sense of confusion that permeates Scream 4.

Horribly, Scream 4 also knocks out clichés like any other dumb sequel – inexplicably dark and empty subterranean car parks, insanely slow police response times, appallingly lit hospital corridors – all of which are simply unacceptable for masters of horror Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson, and especially in a Scream film. And don’t yell “it’s supposed to be ironic!” at me. It’s not. It’s just clichéd.

Although Kevin Williamson thankfully returns after Ehren Kruger slapped out the ropey words for Scream 3, Williamson’s script fails to impress despite knocking out some genuinely decent lines of dialogue. He cites Saw as the deplorable new wave of horror and we expect the deaths to be more extreme, but there is nothing new or inventive. It is a little tired in places and the deaths almost exclusively involve someone taking a knife in the stomach.

Perhaps the true tragedy is that if anyone asks you “what’s your favourite scary movie?” you’re guaranteed it won’t be Scream 4. Luckily Scream 4 also won’t be at the end of the “what’s your most hated scary movie?” question as it has a lot going for it; the likable cast, the self-knowing film references and the fantastic final act that tragically takes too long to get to. Enjoyable for what it is, Scream 4 is certainly likeable, but it is massively flawed.

Oh, and if this spawns Scary Movie 5, then Scream 4 gets zero out of ten. And a kick in the face.

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

One Comment on “Scream 4”

  1. admin says:

    Excellent review Dave. I’m (weirdly) looking forward to seeing this now :)

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