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Scream 4 Is Fun At Times, But Fails to Realize Its Potential

Scream 4
Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Kevin Williamson
Dimension, 2011

Back in December of 1996 the original Scream arrived with little fanfare.  It seemed to be a dump-job on the part of the Weinsteins’ Dimension label, then under Miramax, as your typical horror flick getting a near-Christmas release date where it would die quickly.  In its opening weekend, it made $6 million, which is not some great number “even for back then.”  It went up against Beavis & Butt-Head Do America, which easily took the number one slot that weekend, and was also behind the second weekend of Jerry Maguire, and the fourth week of the live-action 101 Dalmatians.  It looked no better for Scream than the two other movies released that weekend, the George Clooney-Michelle Pfeiffer romance One Fine Day, and the geezer ex-president comedy with Jack Lemmon and James Garner called My Fellow Americans.

The next week, Scream increased its total.  And the following week, it increased an unheard-of second weekend in a row.  It would not make less than the original $6 million it made until its 6th weekend.  By this time, Scream was a phenomenon of word-of-mouth.  It stayed in the top 10 until the weekend of February 21st.

The original Scream both played the satirical game and the conventional horror flick game, all the way to its surprise ending.  It was a good mix, how knowing teenagers armed with hundreds of horror flicks as a survival guide still made stupid mistakes in getting killed when they themselves were in what in real life would be described as a horror movie.  It was well-written, from up-and-coming star writer Kevin Williamson, later of Dawson’s Creek fame.  It was the best movie Wes Craven had directed in years, showing true professionalism and style we didn’t see in horror movies.  It was funny and thrilling.

Then the sequels sort of got into the “a little bit too knowing” issue, where the jokiness started to become a little tiresome.  Scream 2 has its moments, but Scream 3 (still way back in 2000) is pretty much garbage, with even more unnecessary back story thrown in to sew everything from all the Scream movies together.

Scream 4 arrives 11 years later almost completely jokey.  The opening scene is actually pretty funny before finally getting down to “serious” Scream opening-scene mode.  It’s the 15th anniversary of the Woodsboro murders, and someone seems to be paying homage and slashing high school kids.  Our heroes who survived the first three Scream movies are here: Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), the heroine, has just written a book about her survival, deputy Dewey (David Arquette) has been made sheriff, and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) is married to Dewey and looking for a break to get her reporting career back on track.

The young kids are: Sidney’s cousin Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts), her friends Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) and Olivia Morris (Marielle Jaffe), the two all-too-knowing horror movie buffs, both playing Jamie Kennedy’s part, are Charlie Walker (Rory Culkin) and Robbie Mercer (Erik Knudsen).  Then there’s Jill’s all-too-suspicious on-and-off-again boyfriend Trevor Sheldon (Nico Tortorella), whose appearances out of nowhere serve as a pretty funny joke.  Then we have Sidney’s publicist, Rebecca Walters (Community’s Alison Brie), Dewey’s deputy Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton), and two goofy cops (Anthony Anderson and Adam Brody).

You know how this goes: everyone is both fodder for the killer and could also be the killer.  I confess I guessed one of the killers (by this time, you should know that in Scream, there are always more than one) fairly early, and once this person is revealed to be a killer, all of the sudden the performance by the actor turns into what I call “the psycho switch,” where somehow, the character was able to contain their psycho sensibilities for the whole movie, but once the secret is revealed, the actor must then convert into a maniac unnecessarily.

Many of the knowing jokes work here, and for a few instances, this is good fun.  But the movie has no balls.  It really appeared to be going in a direction that would have been incredible for a mainstream horror movie, especially the fourth in a series, to be going.  But it all ends up like all horror movies ever.

By the way, this movie has absolutely no protagonist.  Sidney is treated like a side character for much of the movie.  We share no one’s perspective here.  It means that we are the protagonists of this movie.  The perspective is of those who are fans of the Scream series.  It makes for very odd viewing, to be sure.  When the fourth movie in a series is making fun of itself, and the movie series it created in Scream 2 called Stab (which makes fun of Scream) is all the way up to Stab 7 and there are kids in the movie quoting Stab in a jokey manner, you get bathed in self-reference, and it’s a bit much even if you’re having fun.


Comment from Jonathan
Time: April 18, 2011, 1:30 pm

I might have liked this a little better than you, but I agree with most of what you are saying. I think I found it a little more clever than you did, but I’m not exactly sure what you mean by jokey. I did actually think the humor was as good in this one as it was the first one.

I felt that while they do touch upon the reboot/remake craze (and I found pretty much all of that to be pretty brilliant), I was kind of surprised they also didn’t incorporate “Found Footage” and “Toture Porn” more into the mix. Maybe it would have jumped into straight up parody, but with all of the characters talking about upping the ante, it would have been interesting to see what their angle on a Jigsaw type torture scene would have been. The “Found Footage” aspect is sort of brought up, but then kind of thrown by the way side. I’m still not really sure how editing the filmed murders and throwing them online would have helped the killer get away with anything, but whatever?

The lack of a protagonist is an interesting thing to bring up. I will try to write this up without giving anything away, but I think the narrative trickery involving one of the killers is what makes this seem like there is no protagonist. And Sydney (like you said) being kind of irrelevant for much of the movie, her suddenly being thrust into the killers’ limelight at the end of the film seems a little forced. One review I read said it would have been kind of interesting if the killers had been after Gayle, Dewey, or just one of the teenage characters. Them having to come up with why someone would be after Sid everytime is getting kind of ridiculous. I could kind of buy Roman in “Scream 3,” but in this one (especially when you realize where the killer would have been 15 years ago) it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Overall, I enjoyed it enough. I found the opening sequence to be really good. I also liked most of the final sequence. However, I think the “Stabathon” setting should have been used better, and the hospital sequence gets a little ridiculous. The middle is where the film kind of stalls and gets stuck in the “Scream” routine, but the movie is not that long so I guess that’s not a huge problem.

I think Roger Ebert’s review summed it up best when he said that “Scream 4 does a really good job of being Scream 4.” It’s damn good for being the 4th installment in a horror series; it’s only a little above average when compared to the first two films, so take from that what you will.

Great review.

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