You know what I thought halfway through “Scream 4?” “Who directed this?” None of the “Scream” films really feel like Wes Craven movies. Especially when compared to a movie swimming in his trademarks like “My Soul to Take,” it becomes apparent how much the “Scream” franchise is Kevin Williamson’s baby.
If nothing else, “Scream 4” is consistent. The franchise hasn’t changed much. Ten years have passed but 1996 is still with us.
I have two major complaints with “Scream 4.” First off, for the most meta and self-referial of horror series, the movie barely acknowledges the changes in the horror genre over the last decade. There’s lots of idle talk of “reboots” and “remakes.” “Torture porn” gets one brief, blunt dismissal. But, generally speaking, within the universe of “Scream,” it seems like the horror landscape hasn’t changed. These days, slasher films are generally made by and for hardcore fans of the genre. Movies like “Hatchet” and “Behind the Mask” pay homage to eighties slashers and are made by genre-obsessed filmmakers for a niche crowd.
Slashers aren’t mainstream anymore. But, as the opening minutes of the film make obvious, self-referal post-modern slashers apparently never went out of style within the movies universe. “Stab” sequels keep getting churned out. Yes, the killers in this film are hooked up to the internet and the “rules” are similarly updated, but if you’re expecting Ghostface to start mimicking and asking questions about the “Saw” franchise or the J-horror movement, you’ll be disappointed.
In the last reel, it’s made obvious that the most modern aspect of the movie is the killer’s motivation, which are directly tied to reality television and young people’s desire to be famous for doing nothing. While it’s amusing and interesting when it comes, I was expecting “Scream 4” to be a bit more in-the-know. The other disappointment steams from a certain character surviving the entire film, despite being played flatly by a bored, over-the-hill actress and being easily the least interesting of the series’ central trio.
The best aspect of “Scream 4” is, surprisingly, its cast of young newcomers. It’s easy to forget that likable characters were actually one of the strong suits of the original. While there might not be any here as memorable as Randy, the cast is still strong. Hayden Panettiere, an actress I’ve never been impressed with, is easily the most charming and witty of the young girls here. Rory Culken, the most talented of all the Culken brothers, adds another strong performance to his quickly growing list. Erik Knudsen’s character uploads every single thing he does to the internet and is clearly the writer’s most boldfaced attempt to create a “modern” teen. It actually works though and doesn’t come off like a desperate attempt to stay hip. Knudsen’s amusing performance might be solely responsible for this. Emma Roberts, ostensibly the star of the show, doesn’t really get to shin until the end of the movie, where a vicious spitfire emerges from her boring teen starlet shell.
Among the older set, Allison Brie and Marley Shelton both get meaty supporting parts and ham it up accordingly. Courtney Cox does okay as an over-the-hill Gale while David Arquette isn’t given too much to do. As for Sydney… Neve Campbell was never much of an actress. She’s just as wooden as ever here. Sydney, despite being the franchise’s default protagonist, is still boring as hell.
The gore is supposedly amp up but I’d say it’s on the same level of the first movie, which is more violent then people remember. There’s plenty of decent throat slashing and stabbing. There’s really nothing to compete with garage door kill from the first movie, up until a dagger gets buried up to the handle in someone’s forehead. That was cool.
The intensity level isn’t very high but the parking garage sequence, barn house set-piece, and assorted moments in the last twenty minutes are uniformly entertaining. The fun sense of “who-dun-it” injects this entry with a lot of audience interaction. It honestly kept me guessing, trying to figure out who among the cast was the killer. (I still figured it out before the reveal.)
The movie continues after the obligatory “the killer reveals their motivation” scene with an extended hospital sequence. It’s extraneous and drags the end down. Honestly, if the movie had just stopped before that scene it would have taken the series in a daring, exciting new direction.
“Scream 4” is, honestly, the best of the series since the original. It certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel, or even try to. Kevin Williamson doesn’t have any new tricks up his sleeve. But the movie is a fun, decent way to waste ninety minutes. As a relative non-fan of the franchise, I thought it was pretty good. To someone who is a fan, I suspect they will love it. [Grade: B]