Review: SCREAM 4 - Too Much Self-Relativity, Too Few Reasons To Care

rating: 2

Scream 4 (I'm glad to see must sites are ignoring the heinous 'Screa4m' title in their reviews) is a bloated movie that struggles for an identity and tries so hard to please it's core fans that it sacrifices 21st century relevance for the boasting that franchise reboots simply aren't that, relevant. It's a film that desperately wants to be seen as clever as the original by it's incessant self-relativity but then bangs the punchlines over your head so you know it too and can applaud. In fact, so preoccupied in avoiding the horror sequel franchise sin of repeating oneself is this movie that it forgets about holding together a healthy balance between telling a compelling story with interesting characters, and for taking the time to comment on it's own genre. The latter becomes such a fixation in screenwriter Kevin Williamson that it almost feels like he is a little bitter that he's had to return to a franchise he was done with 15 years ago just so he can get a film in theatres once again and so The Weinsteins can stop asking him about writing another one. "This is what they love me for huh... well wait until they see how far meta, meta, can really go". The result is a movie that is amusing in scatter-shot parts and is bursting with some good and admirable ideas that occasionally boil to the core, and there's a few underlining themes and messages that could have worked with a tighter script and better execution but on a whole it's a hugely disappointing film that is unforgivable for it's self-destructive nature. Horror legend Wes Craven has made a film that is definitely better than Scream 3 (2000) but then that's hardly a stretch, but not up to the standard of Scream 2 (1997) and certainly not the original Scream (1996). Williamson and Craven give the game away from the opening scene. Admittedly quite clever (though the hammy acting means you can spot it from a mile away), Scream 4 begins with an almost Chris Nolan-like set of 'films within other films' sequences that re-run the basic series gag of horror cliches that eventually unfold itself into the real film, and immediately you understand the observational ride through the genre that is going to be played out. Of course every Scream movie has trouble with topping the original's famous opening which still ranks highest on my personal list as the craziest thing I ever saw upon first viewing. I still remember how much Drew Barrymore had been promoted before the release of Scream, she was the poster child and a name we knew... and there she was in the opening scene being gutted, brutally murdered in the most horrific and tragic manner and then hung from a tree where her devastated parents are the first to find her. It was my generation's Janet Leigh shower scene from Psycho moment and the feeling that anything could happen in the scenes that followed was a huge part of why the original was so successful. This was also at a time when Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) were just as big and small characters as the others around them and they could be picked off at any minute too and they weren't being kept alive by the franchise mentality, a huge problem that audiences would see through in the sequels. With Scream 4 we are promised 'New Decade, New Rules' and all bets are off, right? Dewey, Gale, Sid. Is anyone safe by the time a 4th comes along? The plot of Scream 4 isn't exactly earth-shattering. Sidney Prescott, played by a still beautiful, strong, resilient and I think a credible leading actress in mid 30's Neve Campbell, returns to Woodsboro on the final leg of her tour promoting her new book about how she stopped being a victim and became a survivor. Here she stays with her Aunt (Mary McDonnell) and her cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and reunites with old friends and makes an awful lot of tea (seriously) before once again the Ghostface starts picking off residents of the town and the whole bloody cycle gives off again and yes.. it's once again on an anniversary of the Woodsboro killings. Was Sidney asking for trouble or what? And if you were any self respecting parent, wouldn't you have taken your kids far away from Woodsboro about now? Nobody seems particularly surprised that the Ghostface shows up. The actors, Williamson, Craven all seem oddly resigned to it... and here we go again. Problems in Scream 4 begin to unravel almost from the first few scenes involving it's original cast. Like most t.v. reunion shows, the first interactions of old friends after years apart just feels stilted and forced, lacking the chemistry they once shared together and David Arquette and Courtney Cox particularly seem lost in the thing as a couple on the rocks, ironically at a time when they were just that privately. The latter in particular has completely forgotten how to play Gale Weathers and is now tapping into her character from Cougar Town instead, just as she became more and more Monica from Friends as the Scream sequels went on. It's a little painful to see her try and make something out of the character but her performance is so weak - all we are left to remember is her plastic surgery enhanced lips. Arquette too looked like he was suffering from a nasty fever and was sweating more than some characters dripped blood and his face was all puffed out. Stressed? Probably. Yup, very little about either's performance in this movie is what you will take home with you. But then the original core cast aren't given much to do. Characterisation is something Kevin Williamson has forgotten about more and more as the sequels went on. At least one scene of Sidney looking forlorn and asking 'is this really happening again?' would have allowed the movie to have so much more emotion than it does. They meander and weave in and out of the main narrative that seems to be having much more fun playing around with the younger cast and perhaps there was a better movie here that would revolve around the teenagers? Emma Roberts is Ok as Sidney Prescott's niece and the rest of the kids run from being adequate to forgettable, all except one. Out of the new cast, it's former Heroes actress Hayden Panettiere that really shines. She has the Randy Meeks role, the memorable film geek character from the original and she plays it with the right attitude and spunk that she really steels the movie away from her peers around her. It's probably no surprise I like her though... she's incredibly good looking and her character digs horror flicks! But seriously, she is the only character in this movie that really feels like they deserve to live up to the original bunch. I really can't believe she is the same actress here who looked totally inept in the Amanda Knox lifetime movie a few months back. Though there's no denying there is way too many characters in Scream 4, an intended move to make sure we have enough red herrings so we can play the Scooby Doo/Agatha Christie guessing game adequately long enough and so the killer remains a mystery. Intentionally, you will find all the killers from the Scream franchise in this movie as one character archetype or another to keep you on your toes. You would need to have two copies of the Cluedo board game to get through this whodunit bumper pack and there's at least a dozen characters we are supposed to be made aware of and who have lengthy speaking parts. Wasted characters too, like all the actors who play cops in this movie, male or female. And speaking of cops.. what happened to the older, veteran character actors who used to appear in A Nightmare on Elm Street and the first two Scream movies? I missed their presence and that of Nick Cave's Red Right Hand signature tune that was shamefully not included this time around and was replaced by some pop-rock crap.
Scream 4 is so desperate for your affection that there's more beautiful women as slasher fodder than ever before, the kills are longer and more frequent and are fetishistically shot by a lingering camera that it teeters into torture porn occasionally. Especially with the amount of blood (gallons of it) and guts on display. But there are a few really great set pieces including a three way telephone call that I enjoyed, a set piece involving a parking lot that allowed Craven to show that he can, when he wants to, still pull off a great scare sequence and Sidney's first run in with Ghostface I enjoyed.

Williamson throws in enough references to twitter, facebook and anything else to make the Dawson's Creek creator feel like he is down the kids of today and how technological advances have changed the landscape of the horror movie but none of it particularly seemed well done or those mediums used to the full advantages they could have. There's plenty of webcams in the movie but they are never used to their full potential and a comment made late in the second act of a killer videotaping the murders to create his own movie... but this great idea sadly fizzles out.

There was also some talk of the killings being a redo of the events of Woodsboro and that some characters were supposed to represent the originals but I think I might have zoned out at that point and was pretty confused by the reference.

Perhaps I'm just getting old. A full packed crowd of 15-21 year olds (it hit me that so many of these wouldn't have been born when the original came out) seemed to be with the movie and loved the humour and the attitude on display... they were screaming and jumping in places that I couldn't understand. I didn't think any Scream movie has been as predictable as this one but audiences let out a little gasp at the killer revelation, though I thought the reveal was rushed and ill-handled. Felt almost like a going through the paces 10 minute spell. And it didn't carry the meaning it should have... at least not until the monologue kicked in anyway. Clocking in at 10 mins short of two hours, the movie is also too long for this kind of slasher movie and despite very nearly trying to do something that would have been brave and commendable and shocking... Williamson/Craven didn't have the balls to follow through. Shame. Real shame. You will know it when you see it but the movie had a perfect ending that it didn't go with... Scream 4 just feels a bit empty overall. A movie without a soul, a purpose or a sense of fun. If Scream 5 does get made, please can we have less observations and more conventional slasherness? Even if it's cliched and predictable? It's gotta be better than self commentary overload. Scream 4 is out now.

Matt Holmes is the co-founder of What Culture, formerly known as Obsessed With Film. He has been blogging about pop culture and entertainment since 2006 and has written over 10,000 articles.