Movie Review – Scream 4 (2011)

Scream 4 (2011) is the fourth Scream franchise entry and comes a full decade after the last movie. Wes Craven once again directs and Kevin Williamson, who wrote Scream and Scream 2, returns as the writer.

The film picks back up with consummate survivor Sidney Prescott, played by a still stunning and capable Neve Campbell, who returns to her hometown as a last stop on a book tour. But of course a Ghostface copycat is once again making foreboding phone calls and slashing at people close to her, including her teenage cousin, Jill (Emma Roberts). Old faces return and some new ones are added, mostly to be stuck like pincushions.

Of course, true to form, the script is laden with meta-commentary mostly directed at the nature of horror remakes, particularly their shortcomings. A lot of this works well, though sometimes the film seems to slip too far out of satire and into spoof, as Scream 3 did before it. The reveal is a jab on the nature of the modern celebrity, and while I appreciate what the film attempts to do the result is clunky. Some of the dialogue is funny, but if you think about the plot too hard you’ll soon find holes big enough to fall into, so mind the gaps.

I am once again perturbed by a film that points out clichés and then uses them so often. For instance, are cops really incapable of running after a suspect? I wish Craven would have stepped up his directing game in some scenes as little tension is built throughout the film and there are once again too many fake jump-scares. I wanted the movie to nod its head at the inevitable teenage audience and say, “We know these tricks, we invented them,” and then like Dan Akroyd in The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) say, “You wanna see something really scary?” Craven made his mark by pioneering the “video nasties,” and while I don’t want to see extensive rape scenes I was hoping for more drama in the kills, giving the audience an uncomfortable intimacy with the knife. It is, after all, rated-R, and the horror trend that had the most prominence between this film and the last was the subgenre known pejoratively as “torture-porn.” While it’s far from my preferred subgenre, I would have liked to have seen this new Scream take a few notes from it. But instead Ghostface stumbles like always and more by luck than by skill gets his victims, usually with a quick stab as the person goes down dead, blood dripping from their mouths. Yawn.

A real knife attack is quick and relentless. Police officers are trained to fear knives, as a wielder can close a distance of many yards and stab repeatedly before an officer can draw their gun (check out training videos on YouTube and you’ll never take a Hollywood knife fight seriously again). It’s terrifying in its primal brutality and in the violation of the blade biting into flesh. Instead, like most teen slashers of the past two decades, the punch of the violence is pulled and true fear never looms its head.

Likewise, I was hoping for more from Sidney. She’s noble, brave, and a fighter, and I really shouldn’t complain. But I was hoping she’d be confronted by Ghostface and reveal that she’s been training in self-defense against knife attacks for the last decade, and then kick his ass out a window before he can run away. It would have been a nice twist and a message that says we’re over this mediocre slasher crap, and it might have been a more appropriate metaphor for a post-9/11 Scream in which horror victims became more proactive. That being said, Sidney is well-written and portrayed perfectly by Campbell, who is the highlight of the film, as one who refuses to be a victim.

The other performances are a mixed bag, though Rory Culkin does well and is in what is perhaps my favorite scene. Hayden Panettiere eventually won me over towards the end. Emma Roberts, who plays Jill, doesn’t sell the role in my opinion, and couldn’t rise above the trite dialogue.

Scream 4 is an improvement when compared to Scream 3. That’s not high praise, but it remains an enjoyable film that, I think, ends the film series on a better note than its predecessor.

Grade: C+