Title: Scream 4
Directed By: Wes Craven
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courteny Cox, David Arquette, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Alison Brie, Marielle Jaffe, Marley Shelton, Erik Knudsen, Nico Tortorella
There’s no beginning this review without acknowledging that I’m a diehard franchise fan. While I was thrilled to death over the announcement of Scream 4, of course the excitement came with a twinge of nervous skepticism. What if Scream 4 tarnished the original trilogy? Well, I’ve got good news; Scream 4 doesn’t do that in the least. While the film does boast quite a few throwbacks ranging from character traits, to comparable visuals to direct references to the original story, Scream 4 isn’t exactly a reboot; it’s more of a reimagining and if you don’t mind the change in tone, it’s quite enjoyable.
Original trilogy heroine Sidney Prescott (Never Campbell) is back in Woodsboro promoting her new book, “Out of Darkness.” Old friends Gale Weathers and Dewey Riley (Courteney Cox and David Arquette) welcome her with semi-open arms, the high school Cinema Club treats her like a town icon and others steer clear knowing everyone in Sidney’s life ultimately meets a gory demise. Sure enough, the folks running scared have the right idea because even after being Ghostface-free for a decade, the bowie knife touting serial killer douses Sid’s world in blood and carnage yet again.
Per usual, everyone’s at risk, Sidney’s publicist (Alison Brie), Sheriff Riley’s deputies (Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody and Marley Shelton) and, of course, Sid’s younger cousin, Jill (Emma Roberts). Just like Sidney back in the day, Jill comes with a band of buddies including her snarky, but devoted best friend, Kirby (Hayden Panettiere), creepy ex-boyfriend, Trevor (Nico Tortorella) and film geeks Charlie and Robbie (Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen); or better yet Tatum, Billy and Randy divided by two. The younger generation is up on the “new rules” and the Ghostface bloodbath vets boast a degree of know-how thanks to past massacres, but each and every one of them is as vulnerable as the next and, in true franchise fashion, “everybody’s a suspect.”
While this may sound like the Scream team, director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson, are going old school with this one, resurrecting the original, that’s not the case in the least and I’m not just referring to the inclusion of modern technology. Despite packing characters from the original and the iconic killer with his usual M.O., Scream 4 is an entirely different breed of horror. In fact, it’s not much of a horror film at all. While some scenes are quite suspenseful, none are truly terrifying. The original film poked fun at genre conventions, but the cast wasn’t playing the comedy; here, they are and it kind of works.
Scream 4 is actually one of the funniest films to hit theaters in quite a while. Williamson flooded this script with some exceptionally smart and witty dialogue poking a great deal of fun at the franchise itself and genre clichés. The shtick never grows old. On the other hand, there are a fair share of jokes that just fall flat and I’d like to bet that has something to do with the dueling creative minds of Williamson and Ehren Kruger. Some gags work exceptionally well while others hit a dead end so hard they make you feel incredibly awkward. There’s such a blaring change in tone and style that it’s easy to identify the portions that came from another pen. However, the good so heavily outweighs the bad and the film moves at such an impeccable pace that you’ll have no trouble brushing off the missteps and moving on.
While sharp dialogue might mean more laughs, it doesn’t guarantee character development and in that case, Scream 4 is as hollow as Casey Becker’s insides. The only franchise newcomer who manages to earn any sympathy whatsoever is Kirby, which stems from her being one of the more layered characters and from Panettiere’s performance. She’s got a fantastic handle on this character not only in terms of her dry sense of humor, but also with what makes her tick and that comes in handy big time during a key scene in the film. Of the rest, Knudsen comes closest to making an impression, again for getting to work with a more intriguing character and also giving it his all in the best way possible. As for Jill, Olivia (Marielle Jaffe), Charlie and Trevor, they’re all-around bores. Roberts gets credit for pushing the limit in some moments, but generally, she’s just no fun to watch. Charlie and Trevor are all over the place and lack any consistency whatsoever while Olivia’s claim to fame is being Jill’s neighbor and absolutely nothing more.
As for Dewey’s brigade of doofy deputies, Anderson and Brody’s characters are entirely expendable while Shelton steals the show. Her character’s on-going feud with Gale is wildly amusing as is her general attitude, which is enjoyably reminiscent of Dewey’s bumbling but dedicated disposition from round one. In the cameo department everyone earns a laugh, but the best of the bunch are Aimee Teegarden and Brittany Robertson for they’re the only two that manage to evoke any true terror in the vain of the original.
Speaking of the original, I’d like to bet you’re wondering if the return was worth it for Campbell, Cox and Arquette. Well, if it weren’t for the first three films, their characters would clearly have far less traction, but kudos to the trio for coming back full force. Not only is it simply nice to see the familiar faces, but they jump back into the roles with ease, which is key, for had they broke the consistency with their characters, the fourth film wouldn’t stand a chance.
Ultimately what’ll tip the scale for Scream 4 is whether or not you’re willing to move on. Unlike Scream, Scream 2 and, to a point, Scream 3, this new film isn’t designed to scare. You know that sensation you get when looking back at an old high school yearbook? That’s the kind of feeling Scream 4 evokes. You’ve got the necessary elements of the past, but rather than look back with a sense of gravity and emotion, you’re getting a laugh at how ridiculous your hair looked. Is this a bad thing? If you want Scream 4 to be a piece that honestly pays homage to the original, a bit, but if you’re willing to accept the change in tone and look at the piece as mere entertainment, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
I walked into Scream 4 expecting to see something along the lines of Scream, but with iPhones and webcams. Yes, the film comes packed with the latest technology, but apparently the filmmakers had an entirely different movie in mind when it came to rebooting this franchise. Part of me still wishes Scream 4 was Scream all over again, but the odds of succeeding in recreating that sensation are so incredibly minimal. Had they tried and failed, I’d have been wildly disappointed. While the route they opted to take does feel like the easy way out, it’s primarily successful. It doesn’t justify the revitalization of the original material, but at least it’s time and money well spent.
By Perri Nemiroff