Rated: R :: Released: 15 April 2011
Director: Wes Craven :: Starring: Neve Campbell, Emma Roberts, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, and Hayden Panettiere
By Will Ackerman
10 May 2011 — Scream was my first real horror film. I was a pussy as far as the genre was concerned until seeing it on video in high school. After watching it, I devoured the other two by the end of the weekend, and started watching any other horror film I could get my hands on. A decade later, I consider myself something of a lover of the genre. That said, Scream 4 might just be the best example of wasted potential I have ever seen — and that makes me genuinely sad. This is not to say that the film is bad — there are some genuinely great moments — but every time you get one, you find yourself thinking, "Huh, they really pulled a punch there."
At the very least, the movie starts out strong. The opening is probably my second favorite of the franchise, only after Jada Pinkett's murder in a cinema full of shrieking fans in Scream 2. In it, we see a scene that we're led to believe is the beginning of this film, but it's actually the opening for Stab 5, which our real first victims (Kristen Bell and Anna Paquin) are watching. Except we then find out it's another tease, and our real first victims are watching Stab 7. To make this concrete, they start to talk about some of the events of the previous films before they become the victims we're expecting. I loved the swerve, and the way the film is so self-aware for the first few minutes. This has been the hallmark of this franchise. It's never truly been a horror franchise; it's a criticism and parody of the genre and the media. I would also be remiss not to mention that the opening includes a criticism of the Saw franchise, and the insane plot twists and lack of characterization that comes in them.
This brings us to our cast. Returning from the previous films are Neve Campbell as perennial survivor Sidney Prescott, David Arquette as Sheriff Dewey Riley, and Courtney Cox as author Gale Weathers-Riley. I have to say that the returning cast does a great job. It feels like we're coming back to old friends. They all have come full circle, and it's like we never left them. It's because of this that we never even consider them to be suspects when bodies start dropping. Sadly, this is a fault, because that leaves it to our new cast of corpses... err, characters.
New to the cast are Emma Roberts as Sidney's cousin Jill, Mary McDonnell as her mother, Hayden Panettiere as Jill's friend and Stab fanatic Kirby, Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen as film nerds Charlie and Robbie, Nico Tortorella as Trevor, Alison Brie as Sid's bitchy publicist, Marley Shelton as Deputy Judy, and a slew of other people who exist almost solely for the body count. From my description, you can already guess that the film is setting up Jill to be the new Sidney: the final girl who will stand triumphantly against the killer. After all, everyone, including Sid herself, is connected to Jill. That is the film's greatest strength in my opinion; it tries to give you the feeling of this being the next generation, and, in all rights, it should have been. Jill, Kirby, the publicist, and Deputy Judy should have survived and went on to Scream 5. However, as much as things should change, they don't.
One of the overarching themes of the film is the idea of the rules changing. After all, in the 11 years since Scream 3 was released, the horror genre and the world have changed. Now, everyone has cell phones, and most horror films are just torture porn. I mean, just by virtue of being on YouTube, anyone can become famous, something that doesn't escape the killer who is filming all the murders. In the revised rules that the film geeks lay out, being a virgin isn't even a safety net anymore. You pretty much have to be gay to have a sure ticket to survival. (Excuse me while I put on my "survivor" shirt.) It becomes apparent early on that the killer recognizes the rules have changed and is basically crafting a remake, while trying to improve on the original formula. It's also one of the film's greatest failings, because for all that it promises, nothing changes.
This is a shame because most of the new cast deserved to be more than just a cadaver pile. Hayden Panettiere has grown from when she played Claire on Heroes. She shows more than a bit of moxie, and has one of my favorite scenes. In a repeat from the first movie, she's challenged to save Culkin by answering movie trivia. Unlike Drew Barrymore, she wins, and then loses when Culkin knifes her. Culkin and Knudsen, while not quite as good as Jamie Kennedy as Randy, still made for interesting characters — especially Culkin as the evil, anti-Randy, someone who has taken his love of the horror genre and has twisted it into something vile. While they are developed, most of the cast has a few scenes before a knife is stuck into their chests. Mary McDonnell could read the phonebook and I would watch it. However, she, like many of our prospective corpses, doesn't get enough screen time to make me care when she dies. Finally, there's Jill whom the killer seems to have cast as the new Sidney. Except, in one of the best twists of the film, it turns out she's more Billy Loomis.
Now, I have to say, Jill being our killer actually nearly threw me for a loop. I only figured it out after Charlie had been revealed to be one half, and the cast had been reduced enough where it was either the obvious two characters or her. I'm the kind of person who can figure out any twist in the first few reels. Bruce Willis is a ghost? Knew it already. Norman Bates is his mother? Yeah, duh. Anyway, Jill appears to kill Sid, because her plan is to become famous by becoming the only survivor of a massacre like her cousin. After doing that, she inflicts a lot of physical harm on herself, enough to make even a masochist cringe. As she's being taken out of the house on a stretcher, reporters are asking her how it feels to be a hero, and you truly believe that the movie dared to go there. Then we get a whiteout, and you're sure we're going to the credits.
But they fucked up.
We come back to the refusal of the filmmakers to do something awesome. In a perfect world, Jill would have gotten away with it, leaving the door open in Scream 5 for a final girl who's targeted by a killer who doesn't realize that his prey is a murderer herself. Instead, the film decided not to learn a lesson from Black Christmas.
We cut to a hospital where Jill learns Sidney is recovering from her wounds, and tries to kill her cousin once more. However, Jill's shot to death for her efforts. In what should have been a film about the next generation, it chose to embrace the old while spitting on the new — with only one new character surviving. Like most fans, I was pissed at the death of Randy in Scream 2 and Cotton in Scream 3, but at least those deaths reinforced that no one is safe. Unluckily, they're all safe by the end of Scream 4, and the film fails because of it.
Give the film a watch on DVD, if for no other reason than to count the number of places it pulls its punches. In the final reel, Sid says of remakes, "Don't fuck with the original!" Scream 4 does work better than a straight remake, but, because the filmmakers showed their inability to take risks, I can't say I'm excited about the forthcoming Scream 5; the possibilities are exhausted, and this movie should just go on as a coda to a pretty good trilogy. It works better as an ending than Scream 3, but you can't help thinking, "It's alright, but nothing special."