Two things you need to do before seeing Scream 4. The first is simple: promise me you will never, ever spell it Scre4m.
The second is a bit harder:
You may call me stupid for having high expectations for the fourth film in a franchise that was clearly tired the last time around, but there was plenty of reason to get hyped up for Scream 4. Not only was the cast full of returning Scream vets and modern hotties, but both Wes Craven, the master of horror and director of the original Scream, and Kevin Williamson, the screenwriter of the original film and the underrated sequel, were returning to the franchise. There’s a proven track record here and, if we all recall, the last time Craven returned to a franchise he created, we got one of the best films in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, New Nightmare. Precedent had been set for Scream 4 to be an amazing film, and the PR hype train for this movie has been rolling hard since it was announced.
So yes, my expectations for Scream 4 were high, and they damn well should have been. Unfortunately, the downside to high expectations is that they are indeed high. Scream 4 only reaches that high bar a few times during its running time and while it is easily better than Scream 3, if you were expecting another modern horror masterpiece on par with the original, you are going to be very disappointed.
Scream 4 takes place ten years after the original series of films. We find Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returning to her hometown, where the horrible murders originally occurred, for a book signing. Meanwhile Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale (Courtney Cox) are not-so-happily married and living the boring life of a small town couple. We’re also introduced to the film’s trio of heroines: Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettierie), Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts), and Olivia Morris (Marielle Jaffe). Jill is Sidney’s niece and the two other ladies are her best friends. Throw in the usual cast of horror movie characters prime for stabbing and you’ve got yourself the set up for some Ghostface killings to start.
And they do. In true Scream fashion, some very pretty ladies get killed right off the bat in this movie and it’s actually one of the better openings to a horror film I’ve seen in a while. While it doesn’t rival the original Scream‘s famous opening for terror and suspense it does play out really well. I don’t want to give away too much of any part of the film, but I instantly wished Kirsten Bell’s role was much bigger or that they at least make a spin-off film for her character.
Sadly, the film really starts to flounder after the clever opening. As the trio of returning characters struggle to figure out who the killer is (again) and the new generation of teens starts getting slaughtered, the movie never seems to be in a constant struggle with itself to either be the meta horror movie that Scream was or flip that idea around because that’s what everyone is expecting, and just be a straightforward horror film. At some points the movie tries to be a commentary on how the slasher genre has changed and on the endless amount of remakes out there, but then it entirely ignores its own commentary on genre conventions and the premises it sets up. I can understand the desire to break out of the Scream mold because that has become the new standard, but thanks to the film’s eternal waffling between post-modern commentary or simply being a straight up horror movie, you’re never able to understand what the point is.
This contradiction is especially obvious in the actions of the teenagers, who routinely cite horror movie tropes and standards when talking and then go ahead and commit all the idiotic mistakes they just cited. They all know the rules of the horror movie and yet they still go drinking alone at the cool girl’s house? You can’t be self aware and totally unaware at the same time; it doesn’t make sense. Even worse is Sidney, who, having lived through this multiple times, should have learned a few lessons. Maybe she should have started to carry a gun or not gone outside to fix some wind chimes or stopped trusting every single person in her hometown. To top it all off, this contradiction of themes turns the character of Ghostface away from being scary and towards just being a dick with a knife and a Halloween mask.
It is possible the Craven was being uber-meta with this movie and attempting to make a commentary on how all these ‘meta’ horror films and torture porn movies are really just so dumb now, and if so, he did an awesome job, but that doesn’t make for an awesome horror movie. On top of this, his social commentary on modern media and stardom that runs throughout the film is way too heavy handed to feel like anything but tacked on.
But lets pretend that we’re not discussing the return of Wes Craven to the franchise that revitalized slasher films. Let’s just pretend we’re watching a normal slasher film. If that is the case, then there’s some pretty great stuff going on here. It’s clear that Craven is attempting to avoid as many cliches as possible with this movie and, in doing so, it makes for some pretty scary stuff here and there. You’re never quite as on the edge of your seat as with some of his best films, but you’ll definitely jump a bit. Meanwhile the story keeps moving at a solid clip and the deaths are gorier than ever (gotta keep up with the likes of Hostel), but still simple and not over the top. The big reveal of who exactly is behind the mask this time around might leave a bit to be desired, but I can’t say that I saw the end coming, in part thanks to the screenplay and Craven making almost everyone into a suspect. If this were any other movie than Scream 4, you’d probably come out of the theater thinking you’d seen a pretty decent slasher movie.
And then there is the final one-liner of the film. You know, the last, badass line that the hero speaks as they confront the the killer. I’m hesitant to even say this since I just delivered an entire review on why you should lower your expectations, but that last one-liner almost saves the entire film. When it was uttered, there was a brief moment when I completely forgot any and all complaints I had with the film and simply thought I had been entertained.
And I had been. I had just seen a pretty clever, decent horror movie and I had been entertained. Thus I find myself divided. Part of me wants to tell you how underwhelming this movie is and how it seems to completely miss all its own points, but another part really wants to tell you about some of the really solid kills throughout. Part of me wants to give this movie a five for not being all that it should have been and the other part wants to give it a seven for just being a solid slasher movie. Thankfully the number six falls between those two, so that’s where I’m landing.
Scream 4 will either fail your high expectations or go above your low ones. Whichever it is, just please don’t call it Scre4m.