(Wes Craven, 2011, USA)
As belated as it is unexpected, given the loose end-tying finale of the flat third instalment in the franchise, Scream 4 (or Scre4m in some circles) comes eleven years after the previous and apparently final chapter in the post-modern slasher trilogy, reuniting screenwriter Kevin Williamson with self-made ‘master of suspense’ Wes Craven for their fourth stab at satirizing the horror genre, which sees our three haggard protagonists return for more scares, bloodshed and self-referential laden subtext.
Less a remake, more a story continuation with shades of a generational re-boot, Scream 4 is set on the tenth anniversary of the Ghostface’s last murder spree, taking the setting back to where it all began in the pleasant town of Woodsboro, as perpetual victim Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns for a signing on the last leg of her book tour, joining up once again with (now sheriff) Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), ex-journalist and struggling writer. However, this being a Scream film, the bodies start piling up almost instantly and new characters are embroiled within another twisted mystery over who is behind the mask and more importantly, why they are picking off their latest victims. Staying with her aunt (Mary McDonnell) and cousin Jill (Emma Roberts), Sydney becomes concerned with not only protecting herself but her family, and coming to terms with a ghost that continues to haunt her.
Williamson’s script, which was unmistakably the sorely missed element in Scream 3, bitingly witty as it is once again, aims much more for laughs rather than genuine scares this time round, which unfortunately robs Scream 4 of the cutting edge that made its opening two instalments so popular and memorable, despite the inclusion of the sort of self-referential humour thats makes these films stand out from an increasingly imitable crowd. Though this is arguably the bloodiest film in the series, it is also the most over-crowded and over-plotted, with characters introduced for the sole purposes of being offed, subplots that go nowhere and more red herrings than the narrative can actually accommodate. Where the film works best, as seen previously, is in its sharp, self-aware attitude toward the rules (or lack thereof in contemporary cinema) of the horror genre, yet it is peppered with occasionally unexciting dialogue and one-liners that are on the wrong side of ridiculous. However, the film’s best line comes during the films actually unpredictable third act reveal, as Sydney reiterates the accepted opinion that remakes should never toy with the success of the original, an astute observation that parallels the films self-knowing outlook on movie sequels, further demonstrated by the fictional ongoing series of the preposterous Stab films, which is one of the most prescient aspects of the film.
Grounding the series in its modern day setup, where genre trends such as ‘torture porn’ and ‘shaky-cam’ chillers have taken centre stage over old school slasher aesthetics, and social networking has become the backbone of communication whereby almost everything is either being filmed, tweeted or broadcast live over the internet, detailed in one scene where the killer is webcamming the pursuit of his latest victim, Williamson never really rises above the potential of his ironic premise, rarely giving social commentary to these monumental cultural and genre shifts. Scream 4 would have worked better if it didn’t fall back on convention as much as it eventually does; becoming the very thing it attempts to send up.
Seeing Campbell, Cox and Arquette return once more is as assuring as being with old friends again, even if they appear at times vacant and unconcerned, with Campbell’s Sydney being substantially relegated to the sidelines, leaving it up to the younger generation to pick up the slack which they are more than capable of doing, with Roberts and Hayden Panettiere giving excellent performances as fearless cine-literate high schoolers.
Does Scream 4 add much to the legacy of its three predecessors? Not particularly, but it’s still great to be in familiar territory in a rare third sequel that is as enjoyable as it is rushed, and flawed as it is nominally perceptive, despite its frequent lapse into laughable cliché.
- Scream 3, 2000. [Film] Directed by Wes Craven, USA: Dimension Films.
- Scream 4, 2011. [Film] Directed by Wes Craven, USA: Dimension Films.