A film review by Craig J. Koban April 28, 2011
2011, PG-13, 111 mins.
2011, PG-13, 111 mins.
Campbell / Gale: Courteney Cox / Rachel: Anna
Paquin / Chloe: Kristen
Bell / Rebecca: Alison Brie / Dewey: David
Arquette / Kirby: Hayden Panettiere / Jill: Emma Roberts / Charlie Walker:
Culkin / Perkins: Anthony Anderson
will say this about SCREAM 4: it has one of the most ingeniously creative
openings for any fourth film in a series.
introduction shows two teenage girls at home all alone watching a horror
DVD and then discussing the pros and cons of the SAW series, which one of
the lasses rightfully labels as mildness torture porn.
The phone rings and on the other end is a raspy and ominous voice
of a serial killer that threatens to end their lives in a few short
minutes. The girls are
dubious, but cautious minded, but within no time the black hooded
Ghostface shows up and mercilessly slices and dices the two unfortunately
Now, this is not the ingeniously creative part; what happens next is: It turns out that this opening is not the opening of SCREAM 4 at all, but rather the opening scene of a film within the film called STAB 6, which in turn is being viewed by two teenage girls at home all alone who argue over its merits. Wouldn’t you know it, a series of very quick and dastardly events occurs which leaves one of these girls dead as well. But this too is not the real beginning of SCREAM 4, just another opening scene from the STAB franchise. Then the real opening for SCREAM 4 begins...I think.
4 begins with a level of freshness, sly wit, and a self-conscious sense of
being in on the film’s satiric jabs that made the first two SCREAM entries so
diabolical enjoyable. It’s
been an awfully long time since the first installment, which was
conceived and penned by the then unknown Kevin Williamson and directed by
the iconic Wes Craven. That
film, at face value, was a slasher flick, but what it did was smart and
subversive: it amalgamated the basic obligatory elements of the slasher
film with pop cultured infused comedy and an involving whodunit mystery.
Even better, its characters served as a collective voice of its
makers, understanding, commenting on, and frequently critiquing the more
laughable traits of dime-a-dozen horror films.
The teens and young adults in SCREAM worked very hard to not commit
the inane blunders of the mindless characters that populated the horror
films they cherished. It was
the juicy irony and ultra-swift self-referencing that made the early films
so brazenly innovative.
what was oh-so-revitalizing and unique to mid-90's viewers is not so much so
now, and this new entry in…shall I call it…the SCREAM QUADRILOGY makes
a blunder of both mocking and using the very clichés and conventions that
it cheerfully chewed into during the first few films in the series. The 1996 original found a healthy dichotomy between
harnessing obvious slasher formulas and sardonically chastising them, but this go
around it becomes apparent that the series is very quickly running out of
creative gas. SCREAM 4 seems
slavishly reliant on clichés more than it engages in a droll dissection
of them, which has the adverse effect of making the film feel largely
redundant and unnecessary. Aside
from the terrific opening, there’s not much here in terms of the
genre-altering newness that SCREAM 1 levied.
film once again returns to the small and cozy town of Woodsboro where we
reconnect with the people that managed to survive SCREAM 3’s orgy of
death. The STAB film series
is as popular as ever, spawning seven sequels of increasingly low quality,
but they nonetheless spawn an unofficial celebration of the anniversary of
the first string of Ghostface killings.
Of course, this really annoys the new town sheriff, Dewey (David
Arquette), to which he laments, “One generation's tragedy is another’s
joke.” Dewey is married to
the reporter, you may recall, that had an up-close and personal brush with
the murderous rampages of the first three films, Gale (Courtney Cox, former Mrs. Arquette).
an old and familiar face returns to Woodsboro in the form of Sidney
Prescott (Neve Campbell) who has returned as
part of a book tour involving her self-healing writings.
Unfortunately, the Ghostface killer re-emerges with Sidney’s
return and seems hell bent on targeting her remaining family,
cousin Jill (Emma Roberts), aunt Kate (Mary McDonnell).
Jill’s friends, which include the horror-movie loving Kirby (Hayden
Panettiere) and Charlie (Rory Culkin) also seem to be on the killer’s
hit-wish list, so all of the familiar players reconnect to try to solve
the identity and ultimate end game of Ghostface before the town morgue
a good note, Kevin Williamson’s dialogue is pretty snarky, hip, and wise-crackingly
smart and has its fingers on the pulse of the modern horror genre,
although this go around the dialogue exchanges between the teen personas
feel less natural and more like the product of a middle-aged screenwriter
(granted, I would rather have savvy sounding teen characters than mindless
Some of the exchanges are indeed amusing, not to mention how some
of the characters wisely deduce that the torture porn and faux
documentary-styled horror genre is largely voyeuristic, which makes the
motives and methods of the new Ghostface equally voyeuristic.
Like the earlier films, the characters this time have to ponder on the
contemporary trends in horror cinema to allow them to stay one step ahead
of the killer. Like, for example, how “the unexpected” is the new
cliché and that virgins can now die, but homosexuals, on the other hand…you
got a 50/50 chance.
the primary dilemma of SCREAM 4 is, as stated, that it does not joyously
destabilize genre clichés, at least not as much as it thinks it is.
Undermining it all is the fact that there is not much of a
storyline here for viewers to get truly vested in: we get recognizable
faces – and some new ones - that reunite and find themselves yet again
in the middle of a hellish murder spree while engaging in a verbal analysis
of horror films while, one by one, they get bumped off.
The film has some fun engaging in a cat and mouse game with
audience members as to whom the killer really is, and it predictably gives
us plenty of false suspicions about some outwardly duplicitous people.
Note to screenwriters: when you go out of your way at being too
obvious with laying suspicion of guilt on a few suspects, that usually
means that those few are not suspects in order to make the perfunctory
twist reveal more shocking.
won’t give anything away, other than to say the reveal of the identities
(there are two Ghostfaces here, people) is weak and preposterous, which
culminates in a finale that is so absurdly over-the-top that it should
have been in the SCARY MOVIE series.
I am not quite sure if I bought the actual motives of the exposed
killers (the best – but lazy - rationale the film offers is jealousy…mmmkay),
nor did I wholeheartedly believe that any of the characters presented in
the film could be capable of the savagery displayed during its running
time. The finale also
accentuates how terribly long the film is, but I will concede this: SCREAM
4 is perhaps the only film ever to have its characters comment on how
gratuitously long it takes itself to come to a closed ending.
than ever, I was left questioning and pondering the many logical
loopholes in the story: Why would Ghostface adorn the same disguise as
the past killers and why wait a decade to return?
Why would Sidney return to the town that has been the source of so
much pain and suffering for her? Why
doesn’t anyone own a gun or have a home security system or, heaven for
bid, check their call display when needed.
Why are so many public places so horribly unguarded at convenient
times? A late
scene in a hospital is unintentionally hilarious for how it seems to be
the only hospital ever to only have its key characters, the murderer, and
no staff or security occupy it.
I will close by saying this: I did not dislike SCREAM 4, but I found myself largely disinterested in it. Some of the new faces and performances are decent and stand out (like Panettiere and Culkin) whereas others seem uninspired and bored (like Campbell). Aspects of the script and dialogue are crafty and sharp, but the film’s follow through and conclusion are lackluster. Perhaps the real quandary of SCREAM 4 is that it represents how this series is becoming the very thing that its past characters pitilessly scorned in the ’96 introductory film and its ’97 sequel: it’s a rather routine and by-the-books slasher film on auto-pilot, and not much more.