Director : Wes Craven
Screenplay : Kevin Williamson
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2011
Stars : Neve Campbell (Sidney Prescott), Courteney Cox (Gail Weathers-Riley), David Arquette (Sheriff Dewey Riley), Emma Roberts (Jill Roberts), Hayden Panettiere (Kirby Reed), Rory Culkin (Charlie Walker), Marley Shelton (Deputy Judy Hicks), Erik Knudsen (Robbie Mercer), Nico Totorella (Trevor Sheldon), Anthony Anderson (Deputy Perkins), Alison Brie (Rebecca Walters), Adam Brody (Deputy Hoss), Mary McDonnell (Kate Roberts), Roger Jackson (Voice of Ghostface), Marielle Jaffe (Olivia Morris), Aimee Teegarden (Jenny Randall), Brittany Robertson (Marnie Cooper), Lucy Hale (Sherrie), Shenae Grimes (Trudie), Anna Paquin (Rachel), Kristen Bell (Chloe), Heather Graham (Casey)
When Scream debuted to unexpected box office success in the winter of 1996, it came at a time when the horror genre in general, but the slasher film in particular, was bottoming out (which was, incidentally, hardly the first time a genre as cyclical as horror had reached that point). An endless parade of knife-wielding boogeymen and dim-witted teen victims throughout the 1980s and early ’90s had turned all of the genre’s strategies into increasingly silly clichés, and it seemed like there was little else to do with the concept but twist it inside out and revel in its machinations, which is precisely what ingénue screenwriter Kevin Williamson did in his script. Having genre veteran Wes Craven, who had added indelibly to the genre in both the 1970s (1972’s Last House on the Left, 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes) and’80s (specifically 1984’s Nightmare on Elm Street and its legion of sequels), helm the film was a small stroke of genius, marrying the old and the new for a postmodern spin that gratified audiences by respecting their knowledge of the genre while still producing genuine scares and even (horror of horrors!) sympathetic characters and a sense of mystery and intrigue.
The next four years produced two sequels, both helmed by Craven, although only Scream 2 (1997) was written by Williamson (Ehren Kruger did writing duties on 2000’s Scream 3, working from Williamson’s outline). These films tied the trilogy’s story together and ended with closure about as strong as can be expected in a genre that feeds on open-endedness. Nevertheless, here we are more than a decade later with Scream 4, which reunites Craven and Williamson and also brings back the central trio of characters who managed to survive the previous three rampages: the much besieged heroine Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), whose presence all but guarantees the slaughter of everyone around her; goofy police deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette), who is now sheriff of the fictional California burg of Woodsboro; and Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox), an intrepid TV reporter who made a fortune writing books about the various killings and is now married to Dewey and trying to reinvent herself as a fiction writer.
The idea of rebooting a decade-old series is a challenge in and of itself, and Scream 4 meets it head-on, skewering any and all possible criticisms of its approach with a self-knowing nod and wink toward the current state of horror movies, which are all about remakes and reboots. In his script, Williamson jumps right in by having the first characters to appear on-screen immediately dismiss the gory nihilism of torture porn before settling into a meta-within-meta opening sequence that finds reality and its hyperbolic representation in movies constantly giving way to each other like nested Russian dolls, immediately establishing both the movie’s increased stakes and the filmmakers’ recognition of how much has changed since 2000. “New decade, new rules,” indeed, although Craven directs the film like it’s still 1996, perhaps as a self-referential nod to the genre’s resilience even in the face of change.
The story is, for all intents and purposes, exactly what you would expect it to be. Sidney returns to her hometown for a book launch of her inspirational memoir Out of Darkness, which seeks to make sense of all the violence that has haunted her. However, as soon as she arrives, the knife-wielding Ghostface begins hacking his way through a new cadre of teen characters, who are just as smart and horror movie-savvy as their Scream predecessors, but are also more technologically jacked in with their various smart phones and wireless Internet connections (one character is constantly streaming his life via a webcam on his head). The group is led by Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts), Sidney’s sweet-faced cousin who is in danger of taking up Sidney’s mantle of most tormented teen girl in Woodsboro. Her friends are a typical mixture of the brash and the funny, with Hayden Panettiere doing an amusing turn as her witty best friend and Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen playing the requisite horror film geeks who stage an annual marathon of all seven Stab movies.
For what it’s worth, Scream 4 milks its premise pretty well, with Williamson finding some amusing and even surprising ways to rework the formula to speak to a new generation fed by stylish-but-empty horror remakes and celebrityhood that requires little more than self-indulgent notoriety to feed the Internet culture on which it thrives. Of course, there is only so much one can do with self-aware characters, and the teens’ recognition of how the various rules of the genre have shifted and given way to new ones is expanded out to other characters, as well, including a pair of police deputies (Anthony Anderson and Adam Brody) who are all too cognizant of how police officers and other authority figures tend to fare in horror movies. In direct reference to the first Scream, Scream 4 is saddled with an extended kitchen-set climax in which the only thing that flows more than blood is exposition. The identity behind Ghostface’s rampage is revealed and many an explanation is proffered, which has all kinds of thematic resonance, but also too much villain-speak. Clichés can still raise their ugly heads even in a movie that wants to skewer every one imaginable.
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
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