3 Stars
Year Released: 2011
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 110 minutes
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I’m a big fan of the “Scream” franchise of horror films. They’re fun, smart, gory and fairly suspenseful. Well, the first two were anyway; “Scream 3” was a mess. While you always knew you were going to see some blood and guts you were also never sure what the films would deliver in terms of plot twists, and that’s a good thing. So when I heard a fourth installment (which I flatly refuse to write as “Scre4m” as it’s being promoted) was on the way that included director Wes Craven, the surviving trifecta of cast members and the original mastermind behind “Scream,” Kevin Williamson, I was in. And while I was entertained by “Scream 4,” I felt it was trying too hard to be a “Scream” movie to fully give itself over to just being an entertaining horror movie in its own right. Couple that with the fact that Williamson and Craven are doing some film school academic gymnastics that imply they’re paying homage to Alfred Hitchcock and trouble was a-brewin’, but more on that later.

In “Scream 4,” it’s been ten years since the last time we’ve set our cinematic eyes on the quaint yet infamous town of Woodsboro and, wouldn’t you know it, it’s the anniversary of the first round of Ghostface Killer murders. To compound matters, Sidney Prescott (Campbell) is back in town to sell her new book about how she has “Emerged From The Darkness,” or some such thing. As if these two bloody kismet type things weren’t coincidental enough, more murders begin to unfold and, lo and behold, Sidney is involved. Deputy Dewey Riley (Arquette) is now Sheriff Riley and he’s soon on the case. His marriage to sensationalism queen Gale Weathers (Cox) remains mysterious (as in, why are these two married again?) but trudges onward. The love story between these two was funny when it first happened but the relationship seems stuck in the same tired phase it was in ten years prior and now seems to exist only as a weak attempt at character development.

Alas “Scream 4” is probably a franchise reboot so there’s a whole new round of hot young actors who I had never heard of but are destined for varying degrees of evisceration. The new group includes Rory Culkin as film geek Charlie, Alison Brie as Gale Weathers-lite Rebecca and Emma Roberts as Sidney’s cute little cousin Jill. These young ones are well-versed in the rules, not only of the horror movie genre, but also in the rules and etiquette of the “Stab” series (which is a callback to the original “Scream,” which flaunted the rules of the genre while commenting on them as blood and mayhem unfolded all around). Repeatedly the new crew of doomed teens make reference to how the new killer seems to be following the same arc as the original “Stab,” and on and on we go in the circular nature of the franchise. Not that I mind it per se but, again, reminding the audience that they need to be reminded gets old. Fast.

The big thing that made the “Scream” movies special is the fact that they are “meta” and “self-reflexive.” These ideas are pointed out repeatedly within “Scream 4” when characters are talking about the “Stab” franchise, which is code for “Scream” franchise, which adds another level of meta…blah blah. But after being beaten over the head with it for the first three, I was hoping the fourth would let the audience figure out the mirror-like homages. No such luck. The film just cannot let the audience figure it out for themselves and I found that frustrating.

The other thing that bugged me was the way Williamson and Craven seem to be trying to wedge Hitchcock (and Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom”) into the “Scream” discussion. While Craven shrewdly lifted the “kill off the celebrity when no one expects it!” maneuver from “Psycho” in the original “Scream,” I don’t think he’s got a Hitchcockian leg to stand on in any other aspect of the “Scream” movies. Yet in “Scream 4,” those paying attention will see posters and chalkboard scribblings related to “Rear Window” and “Vertigo.” Hayden Panettiere is sporting what at first appears to be a bull-dyke haircut but later I realized it’s Janet Leigh’s ‘do from “Psycho.” A female character early on is named Marnie and later a character is revealed to have the same name as a classic Hitchcock actor. In the typical Ghostface Trivia game where a victim has to outfox the killer in movie trivia, the killer makes mention of Michael Powell’s seminal slasher flick “Peeping Tom,” but other than overtly pointing out the existence of these films while we’re watching a horror film, there’s simply no “there” there.

Where Craven and Williamson succeed is in the classic who-dunnit mystery and the idea that you never know who will get gutted next. The kills in “Scream 4” aren’t as plentiful as I had hoped, but there’s some bloody ones for sure. As purveyors of the franchise saw in “Scream 2” when fan favorite Randy (Jamie Kennedy) got slaughtered, everyone is fair game. Not only that, but everyone is a suspect and Craven and Williamson are very clever in the clues they leave around. You’re either being fed a rope-a-dope of false information or actual facts as to who’s doing the killing and you never know until the end. That’s tough to pull off and Williamson and Craven do it well once again.

Yet for all of those good aspects of the film, there’s also a mocking sense of self-sabotage to the film. Neither Williamson or Craven have had a hit in a while (Williamson is the “brains” behind the popular TV show “Vampire Diaries,” for whatever that’s worth) and I couldn’t shake the feeling they kind of hate the audience these films are geared for. Several times the fact that the killer in the film is clearly trying to remake the original or reboot the franchise is mentioned onscreen and met with loathing from the characters. It’s as if Craven and Williamson are dreading the fact that a reboot or remake is unavoidable but then are completely complicit by making this film. You just can’t have it both ways. Overall though, I did enjoy “Scream 4” and I suppose I’m being too nitpicky. However when a film constantly requires an audience to reflect on the act they’re watching a movie, you get taken out of the movie-going experience and that lends itself to perhaps too much critical analysis.

Posted on April 19, 2011 in Reviews by

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One Comment on "SCREAM 4"

  1. Adam on Sat, 23rd Apr 2011 5:08 pm 

    I enjoyed the film overall. It had more comedy elements than the originals probably. The beginning was the best part, and more than lived up to other openings. Solid entry for the franchise. Considering this is a “4th” movie in a horror series and Williamson left before filming finished, which usually is cause for a mess, then job well done that they made something fun.

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