Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
Scream 4 (2011)
Back in 1996, writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven brought us a unique horror film that was basically a satire of the slasher genre while at the same time being a pretty good slasher on its own. Due to the film’s success, a sequel was made immediately, and while it wasn’t quite on the level of the original, it worked pretty well as a follow up. The third film was where things started to go wrong. First off, Williamson was not involved in writing the screenplay. Secondly, the reveal of the killer felt like more of a joke than something we were supposed to take seriously. Now we have “Scream 4” which reunites Williamson and Craven to continue the streak of killings. However, while it is a step up from the previous film, it also continues to show that the series has passed its prime.
At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to the new batch of teens who are destined to become the victims of a new series of murders. There are also several familiar faces from the previous entries including Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and his new wife Gale (Courtney Cox), as well as Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), famous for nearly being killed in all three previous encounters with the various ghostface killers. Sidney has returned to Woodsboro to promote her new book. As to why she would want to return to the place where she was nearly killed multiple times is anybody’s guess.
Early on, two teens are murdered and two others receive phone calls from someone who sounds like the killer in the previous incidents, signaling the start of a new string of ghostface murders. One of the teens who was called is Sidney’s cousin, Jill (Emma Roberts), who is placed in police protection, but the murders continue elsewhere while everyone tries to figure out who is committing them. As is pretty standard in these movies, the list of suspects is quite long and includes a creepy boyfriend, two cinema geeks with a primary love of horror films, and various friends and acquaintances. Being the fourth film in the series, it’s hard to rule anyone out.
Taking “Scream 4” for what it is, it’s a decent slasher film. It has a few good moments that actually remind us of the amusing, satirical material of the original film. Take the opening scenes for example. The film opens with a kind of movie within a movie within a movie. Ironically, this is followed by a couple of jabs at the “Saw” franchise where one character is trying to figure out how the opening of one horror movie can be the opening of its own sequel, which can be seen as a mockery of how the writers of the “Saw” films tried to juggle their own films together in a terribly unconvincing way. One of these characters also notes that she hates those films due to them being nothing but gross torture porn. A little more obvious, but a good point nonetheless.
Later on, during a marathon of the “Stab” films (the horror films within the “Scream” films that are based on the Woodboro murders), we hear a list of standard clichés that the entire group knows and recognizes immediately, similar to how one of the characters in the previous films gave a rundown of does and don’t of the horror movie genre (don’t say “I’ll be right back,” don’t have sex, etc.). Here, it’s characters not being able to get a cell phone signal, closing the refrigerator door to reveal a harmless character standing there, and the classic victim screaming out “No” as they’re killed.
“Scream 4” may be a decent slasher film, but the problem is that Williamson and Craven don’t really do anything new with it. One of the cinema geeks points out how, for the new generation of horror films, the unexpected is the new cliché. However, if that is true, does that mean that we have to be able to see everything coming from a mile away for it not to be a cliché? I don’t know about you, but I like unexpected things to occur in horror films. A lot of the time, surprises are what actually make them worth watching. This film has a lot of the standard kills that we’ve seen before, turning them into actual clichés themselves. When someone’s walking around in a dark parking garage, do you think they’re going to get out alive? Or when someone’s dumb enough to go walking around outside at night alone when there’s a killer on the loose, do you think they have long to live?
The other problem that Williamson would inevitably run into was in the reveal of who the killer or killers would be and what their motive would be after having written two already. The first two films had interesting solutions to this problem, while the third felt like the writer (Ehren Kruger) wasn’t trying at all. So who was Williamson left with for yet another reveal? The answer is quite disappointing and shows that there wasn’t really anyone logically left who could be responsible for these murders without throwing in a random, uninteresting character with a bland motive, similar to what happened in the third film.
This could very well be the big finale of the “Scream” series. If they were to continue, I only see it getting sillier and sillier from here on. The original was quite good in what the filmmakers set out to accomplish, but it’s been done now. For a series that depends on having a different killer with different motives (though this has not proven to be true for the “sidekick killers”), there’s not really anyone left to pin the murders on. If they wanted to continue, they would have to go for something totally shocking and unexpected….but wait, that would be a cliché, wouldn’t it? 2.5/4 stars.