Monday Movie Review: Scream 4 (spoiler-free)

Scream 4 is a bittersweet experience. On the one hand this horror comedy thriller is like hanging out with friends you haven’t seen for years. On the other hand, it’s like hanging out with old friends and coming to the sad realisation that you’ve grown apart and no longer have anything in common.

Scream 4 starts strongly, with a nicely balanced mix of scares, laughs and slasher genre self-awareness. The first 15 or so minutes remind the viewer that even though it’s been 11 years since the release of Scream 3, and 15 years since 1996’s Scream, the original concept of a vindictive, knife-wielding phone stalker remains just as terrifying, if not more so, in the age of iPhones, Twitter and Facebook.

It’s a pity then that the rest of the film – with the exception of a spark of cynical social commentary near the 95-minute mark – is not nearly as inspired. Multiple characters in Scream 4 mouth off that there’s no originality in the horror genre anymore, given the flood of remakes streaming from the bowels of Hollywood. Ironically, Scream 4 seems to be afflicted with a similar kind of creative bankruptcy. After an initial inventive murder that has the audience squirming in their seats, attacks conform to a typical, and very predictable, “jump out and stab” pattern.

For the record, Scream 4 sees Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returning to her hometown of Woodsboro to punt her cathartic self-help book and spend some time with her remaining family, including teenage cousin Jill (Emma Roberts). However, Sidney’s return triggers a fresh series of masked “Ghostface” murders, which coincide with the 15th anniversary of the original Woodsboro Massacre. Everyone connected to Sidney and Jill is at risk, and former survivors Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and his bored, ex-investigative journalist wife Gale (Courteney Cox) are determined to catch the killer/s before it’s too late.

Scream 4 is VERY talky. You can kind of appreciate the amount of time given to exposition and character, which is unusual in today’s horror films with their disposable leads. However, the unsubtle flinging of motivational red herrings at the audience is done at the expense of scares. Scream 4 is not frightening or thrilling at all – which is a massive failing.

Apart from the lack of creativity applied to the killings, a second major problem seems to be the unrealistic behaviour of characters. Of course, the Scream films, like most slashers, have always been light on realism. I struggle to believe that there are high schoolers out there so savvy and articulate about cinema. This said, I’ll accept ultra-cool movie buff teens. What I won’t buy is characters who constantly refuse to behave credibly.

In a good horror film, the viewer is invested in the chase and it’s hard to do that when characters evidently have no concept of self-preservation or suffer no anxiety at the thought of being knifed by an inescapable maniac. Despite knowing they’re a target, Scream 4 characters go shopping in the dark alone; they sit by windows with the curtains open; they get drunk and wander outside. Nobody, least of all the police, think there’s any value in numbers. Or in sitting in a locked room with a gun ready.

I expect a certain degree of stupidity in a horror film, but in Scream 4 it’s a bit too much.

Still though, the film is a Scream movie, and as a big fan of the original I can’t bring myself to hate it even if it delivers the goods very inconsistently. I still care about Gale and (surprisingly non-goofy) Dewey, even if Campbell’s Sidney is limp and unimpressive. Of the new additions to the cast, most fun are sleek and confident Hayden Panettiere, and Grindhouse’s wide-eyed Marley Shelton as Dewey’s overzealous, slightly unhinged deputy. Roberts too is also very entertaining once she gets the opportunity to be more than “Sidney Jnr.”

It’s just that in the end the whole project feels a bit toothless. Director Wes Craven and co. even resist the temptation to end the film on an uncomfortably dark note 10 minutes before the credits actually do roll. Instead, like most of the remakes the film references, Scream 4 slinks away from promises of and potential for change, preferring to stick to the “safe” formula of earlier successful franchise entries. Which is a letdown.


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