Review: Wes Craven's 'Scream 4' Comments & Slashes to Brutal Fun
by Jeremy Kirk
April 13, 2011
In 2000, with the release of a third Scream - after the first film in 1996 and Scream 2 in 1997 - it seemed the freshness had worn off, the idea of reflection on the horror genre as well as filmmaking as a whole had run its course to the point of self-parody. Remember Jay & Silent Bob making a cameo in Scream 3? Most of us wish we didn't either. But with Scream 4, 11 years appears to be a long enough hiatus for the cleverness to seep back in. It's been a gestation period for horror, and director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson, who was absent from that third debacle, to take another crack at. With Scream 4, the two, dissection knives firmly in grasp, again have something to say, a commentary on a genre and a culture that makes Scream 4 both fashionably smart and unquestionably entertaining.
But it's not exactly a reboot. There's a familiarity in Scream 4 especially with the three leads. David Arquette and Courteney Cox return as Dewey Riley and Gale Weathers-Riley, now with her own hyphenated name as the two characters have married. They still live in the peaceful town of Woodsboro where the brutal murders of the original took place 15 years prior. Another anniversary of the events is approaching, and with it returns Sidney Prescott, played again by Neve Campbell. Sid is back in town for her book tour, a book about overcoming the trauma of her experiences, but it's anything but a pleasant homecoming.
What would a Scream be without a new series of bloody slayings? Someone dressed as Ghostface returns for the call, slash, repeat cycle. Once again, Dewey, Gale and Sid find themselves picking apart the suspects, trying to uncover who will be targeted next, and tying to determine who is behind these new killings.
Again Williamson interjects his own analysis of the horror genre. With Scream it was about slasher movies of the '80s, the Friday the 13ths and Halloweens that made up a cultural phenomenon before derailing themselves with silliness and indulgence. This time around, he's turned his gaze at remakes, the belief that the current generation wants the idea of something familiar put into the body something new and slick. As with Scream, he and Craven do just that here while still giving their audience the howl and thrill of an entertaining yet gory murder mystery.
The teens in Scream 4 could very well make up the actual reboot of the franchise. While in town, Sid is staying with her aunt, played by Mary McDonnell, and cousin, played by Emma Roberts. It's the cousin and her own high school friends who represent the idea of Scream 4 as a reboot even if it is a sequel at heart. There is a generational deconstruction at work here with the teens of the film throwing out new phrases - new since Scream 3, anyway - like Facebook, Twitter and iPhone apps. The idea of film commentary, films about film, and the notion that the fourth wall has long since crumbled, has become a cultural norm to the point of Gale throwing the word "meta" out in casual conversation even if she isn't aware of what it means.
The bridging of this gap between the returning and younger characters isn't handled as convincingly as it probably should be. Sid and Gale appear in scenes revolving around some of the teens. Sometimes it makes sense to the narrative at hand. Other times it almost doesn't. Gale, or I should say Courtney Cox, seems the most effortlessly placed in these scenes. It may be due to Cox's apparent enjoyment playing this role. It could be how evolved her character has become. She notices the success Sid has found with her book. There is almost a noticeable resentment from Gale's character that, when mixed with Cox's presence, makes her the most appealing of this film's cast.
But this weight isn't really found in Sid. It's even found to a lesser extent with Dewey, and the backseat these two seem to have been placed in is where Scream 4's success begins to slide away. The emphasis instead is placed on the new characters. Roberts, Hayden Panettiere as one of the cousin's friends, Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen as the high school's new film geeks, and Alison Brie as Sid's unscrupulous personal assistant all give good to great performances in solid characters. They're each fleshed out to the desirable point, so that when Ghostface pops up and begins stalking them, you get nervous. The intensity found in Scream 4 comes from the weight of its characters as well as a fierceness to the killer not found in the last entry.
And as with the first two film, Williamson and Craven know precisely how to make their audience jump. Quick little slights of hand are at work, moments that make you look left when the killer comes in on the right. The atmosphere of the first film, the paranoia of a small town under the dark lens of a serial killer, isn't on display here. Even though the film takes place in the same town as Scream, it feels like a much larger environment, one that doesn't allow the same sense of claustrophobia and dread the original had.
The brazen kills are there. So, too, is the comedy. Williamson's witty dialogue hasn't lost its beat and makes you glad Scream 3's writer Ehren Kruger didn't return. Note: Kruger did do touch ups to Scream 4's screenplay, but, for the sake of argument, we'll just assume none of that included dialogue.
From the energetic and incredibly inventive opening to the logical and even existential ending - the killer's motives here may be the most satisfying of the series - Scream 4 marks a return for both Craven and Williamson. It's an enjoyable ride of a horror film and an equally engaging conversation starter about the current world of film and even the all encompassing idea of celebrity. The horror films that have something to say about the current culture withstand far longer than the surface-level slashers made purely for genre fans exhilaration. Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson started a trend 15 years ago. While they might not have succeeded in doing the same with Scream 4, their knives dig in once more to felicitous results.
Jeremy's Rating: 7.5 out of 10