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Scream 4 (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 21

SCREAM 4 (2011)

Starring Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, David Arquette, Adam Brody, Anthony Anderson, Alison Brie, Rory Culkin, Mary McDonnell, Marley Shelton, Erik Knudsen, Nico Tortorella, Marielle Jaffe, Aimee Teegarden, Brittany Robertson, Lucy Hale, Shenae Grimes, Kristen Bell, Anna Paquin, Gordon Michaels, Mark Aaron Buerkle, John Lepard and Nancy O'Dell.

Screenplay by Kevin Williamson.

Directed by Wes Craven.

Distributed by Dimension Films. 103 minutes. Rated R.

Scream 4 is a scary reminder of what happens when post-modern becomes past-modern. Everything that was once fresh in the series – particularly the self-referential film school geek deconstruction of its own form – now feels tired and overly precious.

Everything going on here is striving to be bigger and better, but rarely does it attain these heights. Back in 1996, the original film would have mocked this movie’s desperation – hell, even this new one sort of mocks it, though it is a little toothless here – but here we are stuck in a totally unnecessary reboot 11 years after Scream 3 had succumbed to the same problem of obsolescence.

Perhaps legendary horror director Wes Craven is hoping absence will make the heart grow fonder. Perhaps he’s thinking about tapping into a whole new generation who were too young to experience the original Screams first time around and always wondered what the fuss was about.

Neither theory is likely to work out though.

The older actors (Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette) trudge through their roles dutifully, but they’ve all done this three times before and have nothing new to add. The hip new actors brought in to make the film skew younger (Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Marielle Jaffe, Rory Culkin, Alison Brie) just end up being the same generic killer bait these types of characters have been in the last two sequels.

You can tell right off the bat that the series is pretty low on ideas when the movie tries to one-up the series’ celeb-studded prologue with a triple celeb-studded prologue. Oh, geez, they’re not pulling out the old movie-in-a-movie-in-a-movie trick, are they?

Things get no fresher from there.

It’s the typical prodigal-child-returns type of storyline. Fifteen years after the mayhem of the original massacre, the remaining survivor, Sidney Prescott (Campbell) returns to her hometown for a reading from her new, best-selling book about finding inner peace after surviving a serial killer. (There must be a huge audience for that one…) The town gets all worked up about her return, throwing a special film festival of the Stab movies that are loosely based on her life (and more specifically based on the Scream movies.)

Back in the town are Officer Dewey (Arquette), who is now Sheriff and his wife Gayle, the muckraking journalist who has made a pretty penny writing the books that inspired the Stab movies, but who is now bored with small town life and is hoping for a little violent mayhem to spice things up.

Plus, there are a bunch of cute, jaded, pop-culture mad teens just waiting to be murdered.

And, no big surprise, someone is celebrating the anniversary and Sidney’s return by dressing up as Ghostface and carving up a few co-eds. Hell, they even sort of resurrect some of the death methods from the first movie, such as when the killer uses an automatic garage door to trap and kill a fleeing girl.

Now, a very basic flaw in the premise – and one that Scream 4 never bothers to address – is the simple question of why Sidney Prescott has become the true star through her experience even though she has tried to distance herself from it, rather than… say… the actress who played her in the movie series. People recognize Sidney on the streets and tell her what a fan they are, but as far as we can tell all she really did was survive an attempted murder and eventually, nearly 20 years later, wrote a book about how her life is more than just the one experience.

By the time they reach the “surprise” reveal, which rides on a very hackneyed social commentary on instant fame in the internet culture, the movie has pretty much petered out.

In fact, it had me contemplating completely different scenarios, just because I was so bored with the action on screen. I started wondering, what would happen if one of these young hot teens answered the phone (oh my God, in the old-fashioned world of Scream 4 they still have land lines!) and heard a threatening voice asking “Do you like scary movies?” and the girl responded, “No, I’m really more into romantic comedies.”

What would happen, would the killer suddenly have to change directions and wiggle and giggle his way into their hearts through trite and predictable means? “I’ve been killing people for years, but it’s just because I haven’t found true love…” Cue goopy ballad as the killer and victim kiss, then hold hands and walk off in the sunset.

Now, that may be an interesting twist if Wes Craven ever feels the need to revisit this scorched and infertile turf yet again.

Better yet, I think that he should realize what all the kids he was trying to bait in with his film already know: Scream? That’s so 90s.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2011 All rights reserved. Posted: October 4, 2011.


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