US (dir. Wes Craven)
Cast: Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin , Adam Brody, Marley Shelton, Kristen Bell, Anna Paquin, Erik Knudsen, Dane Farwell
Synopsis: Sidney Prescott, now the author of a self-help book, returns home to Woodsboro on the last stop of her book tour. There she reconnects with Sheriff Dewey and Gale, who are now married, as well as her cousin Jill and her Aunt Kate. Unfortunately Sidney’s appearance also brings about the return of Ghostface, putting Sidney, Gale, and Dewey, along with Jill, her friends, and the whole town of Woodsboro in danger.
Review: I’ll be the first to admit I was excited about a fourth installment in the “Scream” franchise. Although I often profess more than mild disdain with respect to remakes, sequels, remakequels, reboots, and the like, I was more than willing to give this one a chance, given that so much time had passed since the God-awful “Scream 3”. Plus with Wes Craven directing and Kevin Williamson penning the script, a “Scream” fan can’t help but feel a little giddy…
But boy was I in for a shock when I saw Craven’s most recent work prior to this film (“My Soul to Take”) which has hence earned itself a place as the worst film I have reviewed on my blog, and discovered that goddamn Ehren Kruger (the writer of “Scream 3”) was doing on set re-writes of Williamson’s original script. See, I knew it was too good to be true when they announced Craven and Williamson teaming up for #4! So instead of a long-awaited, albeit somewhat of a surprise, sequel to one of my most revered horror films of all time, I got a half-baked money-grab that could not have been more disappointing (well after seeing “My Soul to Take” I guess that, yeah, it could have been worse). Though I must admit, on the first viewing I was kind of digging it, however a second viewing brought out far too many flaws to light. Chalk it up to the fact that I was so psyched to see the old gang, Sidney, Gale and Dewey, back that I disregarded plot holes, major inconsistencies, and just general stupidity that appears to be much more rampant on a second look.
Since the genre has changed so drastically from when the first “Scream” film came out in 1996, I was intrigued as to how remakes, reboots, remakequels would be discussed or addressed and how the found footage and torture porn sub-genres would fit in. Basically, I was looking forward to a more 21st century “Scream” which would take on the new direction of horror by applying the conventions and rules of the various sub-genres prevalent in the 2000s. Instead we get a sequel that vainly attempts to reboot the original film, but fails to stick to it as the filming locations, the music (i.e. “Red Right Hand”), and even the damn Ghostface mask are different in ways that could have been easily remedied (could they not have filmed the same “Woodsboro” iin the same location as it was in the original, or even attempt to recreate it more convincingly?). It just reeks of laziness. At the very least they recreate the original set of teenagers with a new, slightly more age-appropriate, set: Kirby, filling in for sassy Tatum, Trevor as the mediocre Billy stand-in (felt more like a parody of the Billy character – I mean did you see that scene where he tries to jump-scare the film geek? Come on…), Jill as the stand-in for young, innocent Sidney, Charlie and Robbie collectively fill in for Randy (a role so big, they clearly needed two noobs to fill it) and Sidney’s publicist as bitchy Gale. Although I was unsure as to why the Jill character needed two dispensable BFFs; by the time we get to know the Olivia character’s name, she’s pretty much already toast.
The closest we get to any referencing of current horror trends is of course the whole “Ghostface is now filming his kills” set up, which is only really discussed until one of the horror geeks accidentally turns his headset camera backwards, only to see Ghostface in front of him right after he adjusts the camera. I mean this really isn’t something new or innovative, it pretty much already happened in the original, to greater effect even, during the scene where Gale’s cameraman watches Randy almost get attacked by Ghostface. What I did enjoy was Kirby’s extensive list of every horror movie remake ever made in recent years during a phone call trivia session with the killer. That proved to be the biggest laugh in the film, though certainly not the only one – given how much the film develops into a self-referential parody of itself.
With all the talk within the movie of it being a remake, one would expect it to be as serious as the original in terms of content, motive, dialogue etc. I mean sure, there will be a few laughs here and there (the original wasn’t entirely devoid of comedic interludes) but “Scream 4” ends up being the funniest of the franchise, making it feel more like a parody of a “Scream” film than a reboot or sequel or what have you. I mean there is even a line where Ghostface has to clarify that “this isn’t a comedy, it’s a horror movie!” (wow, really?) Adding to the fact that there is absolutely no tension and no real build up to anything scary, you literally feel like the film is just a self-referential parody of itself. And since so many newer horror movies are self-referential anyways, it’s hardly a breath of fresh air in the genre to have yet another horror movie with teenagers familiar with all the conventions of the genre. Throwing the word “meta” around doesn’t help much either. Like geez, we get it, it’s a horror movie where people know they are in a horror movie, how clever! What was new and innovative in 1996, isn’t exactly so breath-takingly original 15 years later.
A major problem inherent in this film is the over-whelmingly large cast, a problem I noticed in “Scream 3” as well. In a film that last only about an hour and forty-five minutes, cramming in such a large mass of young, hot new actors while still spending adequate time re-introducing the Gale, Dewey and Sidney characters back into the fold, leaves little room to spend enough time with anybody long enough to form any sort of concrete opinions. It just feels like they tried , to get in enough red herrings to keep us on edge, while meanwhile we hardly get to know people’s names long enough before they are killed. By the end, when the entire new cast is basically killed off, we just don’t give a fuck. Why? Because we don’t know these people, and we don’t care. Not enough time is spent making us care, so why should we?
SPOILER ALERTS! The most critical problem of all is the killers’ motives, which yet again involve someone blaming Sidney for their life going wrong. In the many “Scream” films we constantly are left with a killer with some sort of increasingly stupid personal vendetta against Sidney, be it Billy Loomis, Mrs. Loomis, or Sidney’s half-brother, Roman. At a certain point you are just left thinking why anyone would really continue going after Sidney at all, given how of little interest she has become and how silly it really is to blame her for anything. In this film, Sidney’s cousin, Jill, and her lover (?) Charlie, are the Ghostface killers, with Jill being the mastermind of it all. First of all Emma Roberts and Rory Culkin are the least plausible Ghostface killers, given that their cumulative weight amounts to that of a pile of wet clothes and they barely stand above five foot four. One is left to wonder why these two were cast at all, given how ridiculous it would be to picture them as the tall, powerful Ghostfaces we are meant to believe they are. On a second viewing the surprise factor is still there, given how cleverly they manage to weave in and out of scenes, but at the same time our ability to imagine them as powerful killers diminishes, given their physiques. Plus Jill’s motive sounds even more dumb on a second viewing, considering how at the time of the Woodsboro murders she likely had just been born, making ridiculous for her to whine about how her teenage years were overshadowed by Sidney, especially considering the fact that Sidney has spent the last 10 years (since the events of “Scream 3”) writing her self-help book and generally staying out of the spotlight. And even the secondary motive of Jill getting revenge on her creepy cheating boyfriend and Charlie getting revenge on Kirby for not taking any interest in him feels way too teenage soap opera to make for a convincing horror movie, so really none of the motives feel very compelling. Then to further complicate things, Jill ends up killing Charlie so she won’t have to share the honour of being a sole survivor, despite Charlie professing his love for her (though I fail to understand why, especially if his motive for killing Kirby was because she didn’t “notice” him). By the end of this whole reveal, we are treated to a delightful scene in which Jill beats the shit out of herself for a good 10 minutes, signaling a false end to the film before the real climax at the hospital begins.
Despite the fair amount of vicious and brutal violence, particularly in the Olivia death scene and the killing of Trevor, the entire movie just feels like a parody of a better movie. I fail to see how this would entice a new generation of kids into watching the “Scream” movies, if anything this might just scare them off. The move-within-a-movie opening sequence is slick in its execution, but its impact is less than impressive. It just feels like a rip-off of the much better opening sequence in “Scream 2”. As well, all the platitudes about how horror movies have become repetitive, predictable, and involve teenagers deconstructing the genre feels like its been done to death by this point in the franchise – something even brought up during one of the movie-within-a-movie sequences.
So if you are someone new to the franchise, I doubt you’d want to start with “Scream 4”. Heading straight to where it all began is the best bet. And in future Craven and Kruger don’t forget your won advice, the first rule of remakes: never fuck with the original.