Saturday, April 16, 2011

Scream 4: A Review

*Mild Spoilers, but no hugely relevant plot details or hidden identities revealed.*

Scream was a big pop/culture love in my life. Hell, for a year or two it nearly rivaled Buffy for the magnitude of my affection (obsession).

The original was a classic. I came home from middle school to find my brother had rented it, and that was the end. Suddenly I was a horror fan. From the purely terrifying, heartbreaking opening scene to the satisfying end, I was hooked. My profound love for strong women, for girls who fight back, who find a way to act despite the onslaught of grief, fear, doubt and knife-wielding psychos, was forever cemented.

When Scream 2 came out, I could hardly be more excited. A continuation of a story I completely loved? That's almost as good as making it a serial television show that, with luck, would never end. Despite the caveats of sequels, the drop in quality, Scream 2 was a very strong movie, with good Sidney action, legitimate scares, and the very double edged sword of a scene featuring Sarah Michelle Gellar. Seeing her on the big screen was surreal, as if Hollywood producers had decided to sit in my teenage brain and connect my disparate loves (obsessions). Then again watching her fall victim to Ghostface without employing any Buffy moves, in very helpless, vulnerable, panicked acting, was more painful than if Sidney got killed, which I knew wouldn't happen (one of the best principles of the entire series).

Scream 3 wasn't very good. Worth it to watch Sidney again, no doubt, but the story was poor, the scares thin, Parker Posey over the top, Patrick Dempsey out of place, and Courtney Cox's bangs were frightful. Thus a distance was put between me and the passion I used to feel, though it did not take away from the original movie's power. And, I venture to say, nothing will.

So it was that when Scream 4 was announced, I found a tremor in my twentysomething chest akin to the 13 year-old's glee. Ten years later, and it was coming back. The trinity of Sidney, Gale, and Dewey were returning. Craven directing, and Kevin Williamson back on the script. From all the interviews I could find, it seemed as if they weren't making another sequel, but an attempt at a reboot, a back-to-the-beginning resuscitation. I harbored great hopes, eagerly devouring leaked photos and the eventual trailers. So much so that I eagerly went to see it on opening night with a true fan's unwillingness to let the story exist in the public without being a part of it. Which was my first mistake.

Between movie channels, DVDs, the Internet, and NYC ticket prices (not to mention bed bug stories) I had not actually physically been to a movie theater in about two years. Likely it will be another two years before I try it again. The crowd was horrible. Their idiocy and volume started during the trailers and, despite what I told myself, did not abate when the movie began, instead growing to riotous mirth and remaining undiluted throughout. They shrieked, laughed, offered their advice and criticism, grumbled, and almost perfectly reenacted the opening scene of Scream 2, where the hooligans at the opening night of Stab 2 (the movie-within-the-movie of Sidney Prescott's life) are too crazed to notice Jada Pinkett-Smith's murder right in front of them. The comparison of which fit perfectly, since in the end it turns out Scream 4 was not a Scream movie, nor even an attempt at getting back to what made the original so fantastic, but an earnest representation of what Stab 7 would be, a commentary on the increasing ridiculousness of slasher sequels.

They threw themselves into a humorous and self-referential pastiche (not even satire) of the few true originalities the Scream franchise once possessed. In doing so, what they made was a comedy film, as even the completely stoned (or severely stupid) guy sitting next to me could incisively point out to his intellectually matched girlfriend. No attempt at gravity was made. No scares were effective. No danger felt real.

"Ghostface is such a douche. Oh man, he's standing right behind me isn't he?"

The much anticipated, notorious opening sequence set the entire tone of the movie, being purely comedic with some stabbings thrown in as an afterthought to end the scene. Littered with attempts at wit, only occasionally did the dialogue work on any level, the references quickly becoming tired and mood-destroying (though to be fair there were at least twenty lines I couldn't hear since after every punchline or minor surprise the crowd was forced to sonorously reveal their approval or displeasure).

Several characters were complete throwaways (why cast Mary McDonnell, an actress with real chops, for two scenes of no merit? And who needs a comedic relief Deputy when the entire movie is filled with jokes and silliness?) and not even a single murder was even slightly original. So many scenes, plot twists, and even murders were taken directly from the original that it stopped being 'meta' and became embarrassing.

The reveal of the killers (yes there were two, another Scream staple, sorry) was also disappointing. One had been obvious, the other had crossed my mind but been pushed away as far too ridiculous. Their speeches of justification were the worst written parts of the movie, and acted out with equal skill. If there was any hope of salvage remaining, the climax reduced everything to a farce.

There were, however, a few high points. I am fair-minded enough to admit that. Neve Campbell was pitch-perfect as Sidney throughout the whole movie, slipping into her old character with ease and dignity. By far the best scene in the film was her first encounter with Ghostface when, after bursting out of nowhere the killer cuts her cousin's arm, Sidney saves her and launches after Ghostface. Perhaps only 30 seconds in length, the fight scene restored an all too brief snatch of the whooping adrenaline that was the high point for me in all the Scream movies, when Sidney not only adeptly defends herself, but takes the fight to the killer, receiving believable strikes and giving better than she gets, before, after kicking ass and effectively ending the movie, Ghostface does his disappearing act and the plot continues.

Other notable mentions include Alison Brie of Community fame convincingly portraying Sidney's cutthroat and foul-mouthed publicist, and putting in a decent scary scene, and Hayden Panettiere as the spunky kid of the new generation being a character one actually could care about were she given better lines. Courtney Cox also effectively portrayed the Gale Weathers of old, though not present as often as a fan would like, while Dewey, familiar, bumbling, vulnerable Dewey, might as well have not been in the movie at all. Some promising scenes teased at in the trailers were not even in the final cut at all, begging the question of who edited the two-hour fiasco.

All in all, my disappointment is profound. I am fairly certain they will make at least two more installments, though aside from ticket sales I can't see the point. This was not a Scream movie, despite familiar characters, and above all not a horror flick. Perhaps, in truth, the main judgment I should take from the experience is this: Never go to a "scary movie" on opening night, unless you have zero emotional connection to the story and simply view it as a social engagement with your twenty best friends. I have no doubt that my opinions will at least slightly alter when, after an appropriate number of months, I view the film again, alone and in silence, the reprobate crowd having tarnished the event for me in as yet unquantifiable degrees.

Ultimately, this is a movie that many people will clearly enjoy in the name of entertainment, but a true fan of the franchise will find little to be satisfied with.


  1. Oh man. I liked the first, hadn't seen second or third, but was looking forward to the re-boot! Bad luck. Great essay, though. Would you suggest a non- devotee see it just for entertainment? Or does it fail on the comedy level, too?

  2. Thanks for the compliment, and for reading Max! I would definitely suggest a non-diehard to use it as easy entertainment (I imagine the die-hards, like me, will go regardless.) As a comedy film it is remarkably successful, which I would have mentioned if I wasn't so offended.
    But there were moments when even I, who sat there stiffly attempting to drown out the crowd, felt my critical mask slip and a huge guffaw come out. The friend who accompanied me (by no means a die-hard) thoroughly enjoyed herself, and hysterical laughter from the crowd was very common, and it wasn't all influenced by their doubtless pre-game ceremony of bong hits.
    In short, yes it is quite funny and entertaining.