Opening in theaters Friday, April 15
Neve Campbell as Sidney
Four chapters in and almost 15 years since the original opened, the Scream franchise still has bite.
In a cannibalistic fashion, the series needs to feed off of its own kind to be relevant and, by the time Scream 3 was released, the series had been exhausted. Thanks to the last ten years of Asian ghost stories, torture horror and remakes, Scream 4 has found a way to make the series relevant again, smartly commenting on not just the genre and itself (or in this case the wildly popular Stab films – Scream‘s cinematic mirror image) but on the sad decline of media-fixated, narcissistic youth. Of the series, this could be the most cynical chapter to date, bringing with it a welcome, subversive message.
That said, this sequel isn’t the mess it could have been (c’mon, it’s a “part 4,” it could have been a disaster). It’s got a strong start and an equally strong finale, and somewhere in between there are some great ideas. But perhaps because this is indeed the fourth chapter the “scare factor” this time feels tempered. Scream 4 is rife with grotesque and unsettling moments, yes – the latter courtesy of the “voice” of Ghost Face himself who uses a new arsenal of eerie threats, however, Scream 4 offers spilled intestines and red-splattered walls in lieu of suspense. Craven takes a more go-the-throat, aggressive stance to the killings, eschewing some of the compelling giallo-esque set pieces that riddled the first two entries (I still love Dewey’s sound booth attack from Scream 2). Although there is one scene Craven briefly orchestrates that efficiently plays on the nerves with the use of web cams.
In some respects, Scream 4 adapts to the “gore is more mentality” of the Saw films. But, as we know, “gore” doesn’t equate to “scary.” Craven is clearly trying to compete for attention of the Saw generation when his camera favors one of Scream 4‘s gutted teens. He doesn’t go overboard and knows full well that over-the-top viscera and torture isn’t what Scream is about. Wisely, he leaves it to a cast of newcomers to deliver Kevin Williamson’s (and uncredited writer Ehren Kruger) banter about the current climate in horror filled with excessive “Screamakes” and “Shriekquels” and Scream 4 is sharp in that respect.
What doesn’t work – although it doesn’t make Scream 4 any less entertaining – is its clumsy handling of the core survivors: Sidney Prescott, Dewey Riley and Gale Riley (Weathers).
The thrust of this chapter’s story is that Sidney has returned to Woodsboro to promote her new book, “Out of the Darkness.” Naturally, the murders begin again, drawing Sheriff Dewey into the investigation. Meanwhile, Gale, her days in journalism behind her, is compelled to put her dogged investigative reporter cap back on in an attempt to maintain some significance in the mainstream spotlight.
Campbell is underplayed in the role and is far deserving of more material than what she was given this time. Little is said about where Sidney has been the last ten years or what she’s been up to and the film does little to explore that. One can fill in the blanks with Dewey and Gale’s arc since part three. In fact, Gale is probably the most fleshed out character of the trio and the most amusing; Dewey, meanwhile, is left to look worried, provide a modicum of humor and race from crime scene to crime scene.
How Scream 4 depicts the three perfectly sums up the film’s palpable internal debate. It’s trying to favor the tried and true older cast while supplying fresh blood – embodied by Sidney’s cousin Jill and her pals Kirby, Charlie and Robbie. And it leans hard on those newcomers with satisfying results.
Emma Roberts is fine as Jill, but it’s Panettiere, Culkin and Knudsen who shine with their movie-savvy banter. Panettiere is like Rose McGowan’s Tatum and Jamie Kennedy’s Randy rolled into a pleasing lil’ ball of charm. Still, there’s always that struggle between old and new and when the story finds Sidney in yet another scene where she’s at Jill’s house fighting Ghost Face (there are two), one has to wonder if there’s more Sidney could do in this film than be the former-victim/survivor/protector.
Most of Scream 4‘s muddled areas arrive late in the second act (and probably peaks with a bad Bruce Willis joke), but as stated earlier, things pick back up and race to an organic, violent and smart finale – which, of course, won’t be divulged here.
I did enjoy Scream 4, don’t get me wrong. Much of the film made me laugh, including the brilliant opening sequence that toys with expectations while playing on Scream‘s need for a shocker introduction. Some of it had me scratching my head, like Marley Shelton’s performance as Deputy Judy that’s too zany for my tastes. There are also questions of logic to be had (much of it having to do with Scream 4ss reliance on technology to twist and turn the plot). But none of it outright disappointed me.
Scream 4 is a worthy sequel that’s better than three, no doubt about that, and stays true to the series. I’ve got some ideas as to where part five could go, but since Scream 4 has effectively reflected the last ten years of horror, we may need to wait a while until another sequel comes along.