1/4, 2010s, Horror, Review, Wes Craven

Scream 4

#15 in my ranking of Wes Craven’s filmography.

#4 in my ranking of the Scream franchise.

For all the façade of being rule and genre breaking forays into the slasher flick space, the Scream movies sure do stick to a formula pretty closely. They mess with details here and there from movie to movie, but ultimately they’re all slight variations on the same formula. When I was watching the second film, I was bored and imagining a sequel that actually did break the rules, the rules that the first film had set up, instead of just finding new, less interesting ways to do the same thing. Changing genres, or doing something really different with the identity of the killer like not revealing it at all might have been interesting. Instead, every sequel has just been the first one but slightly different. This third sequel is the same, and it’s just simply tired, taking all of the flaws of the previous sequels and just repeating them.

The one thing that the film does to really try and undermine the ideas of the sequel is to have two false starts, the beginnings of the in-universe films Stab 6 and Stab 7. It tries to establish the celebrity names that get killed off in the opening minutes like Drew Barrymore, only to subvert it completely. It does nothing with it at all, but it’s an interesting way to approach the start of the film.

In the “real world”, Sidney (Neve Campbell) has come out of hiding to write a book about her experiences and is starting her book tour in Woodsboro with her publicist Rebecca (Alison Brie). She is staying with her aunt (Mary McDonnell) and high school cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) who has a few friends like Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) and Olivia (Marielle Jaffe). In high school, the Randy role is filled by Charlie (Rory Culkin) and Robbie (Erik Knudsen), a pair of film geeks who run a small film club. Also living in Woodsboro area (now) Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and his wife Gale (Courteney Cox). This is a lot of characters, and Sidney is still supposed to be in the middle of it.

Poor Sidney Prescott…She started as a rather wonderful heroine in the first film, and she’s been shoehorned into everything since. Her involvement didn’t really matter beyond the basic mechanics of the reveal of each killer, and it’s the same here. That being said, putting her on the path from victim to something else, while actually ignored for most of the film, does end up contrasting nicely with the person behind Ghostface’s mask’s motive. There was some real thought into the identity of the killer, relating them to Sidney in a way that makes it less completely random than it could have been. It’s a nice addition, but it gets so hidden and ignored for so long because the movie can’t give away the killer’s identity until the long, drawn-out explanation scene at the end that is a staple of this series that it blunts the idea rather starkly.

The meta aspects of the franchise have always been little more than pokes at cleverness that never actually worked in the films’ favors beyond some amusing moments. I feel the same here with all the talk from Charlie and Robbie about the rules of reboots to be nothing more than attempts at creating red herrings, the center of it being the big party scene. They establish through dialogue that the big party scene is where the movies come to an end (it’s true, admittedly), and then the film undercuts that by having the big party scene be a fake out. I suppose the only people who would really expect the big party scene to be the big reveal and climax would be those who are suffused in the franchise itself, fully expecting it to hit the exact same beats. Having the big party scene be a fake out isn’t actually messing with the important parts of the formula, though. The important parts of the formula are the endless strings of red herrings, the random character deaths, and the last minute and elongated reveal scene where Ghostface gets unmasked and explains, in detail, everything about their plan. The fourth time around, it’s boring. You know not to get invested in anyone because anyone could be the killer. You know not to get attached to anyone because anyone except Sidney, Dewey, and Gale could die.

The use of an extra-extended ending doesn’t help either. Again, it’s nice that the contrast between Sidney and the killer behind the Ghostface mask is directly there, a conscious decision on the part of Kevin Williamson to bring it up a bit, but the conventions of the series drown it out completely.

You know what would have been unexpected? Knowing who the killer was from the beginning. If you need to include Sidney, make her an actual Cassandra (like she played in Scream 2) and have her try to convince people of the identity but no one believes her. Something along those lines, that way the writer can spend the movie drawing the parallels and contradictions between Sidney and Ghostface, digging into it, instead of just offering a series of red herrings that don’t matter and just fill up the screentime.

This was Wes Craven’s last film, and it’s sadly an appropriate one. He brought nothing to the film except a base technical skill that was probably as much a source from his technical team than him. It’s really just Williamson’s script, warts and all, brought to the screen. Craven was a mediocre filmmaker who got lucky a couple of times, pigeonholed into a genre that he wanted to exploit when he was in it but didn’t have the skill to actually mine on his own. Kevin Williamson was the closest he ever got to a regular writing partner, and Williamson isn’t that great of a feature film writer. What a sad end to a frustrating career.

Rating: 1/4

4 thoughts on “Scream 4”

  1. I think your summary paragraph says it all.

    The only joy I got out of Scream 4 is character development (as I’m pretty strongly drawn to characters in stories). I enjoyed seeing Dewey and Gayle (though Gayle is REALLY an idiot in this one), I liked seeing Sidney. I didn’t care about the killer plot. Jill made me roll my eyes. Sidney clearly needed to look into histories of mental illness in her extended family.

    Scream 4 was just more Kevin Williamson formula trash. The guy only can write a narrow band of screenplay and he’s just…ok at it. Lukewarm. To be spat out of my mouth.

    At some point, I expect Sidney to fight Michael Myers in a Ghostface mask.

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    1. It’s a great example of how Hollywood undermines everything successful. The formula was easy to point at as the reason for success, and there was no deviating from that.

      The worst part is the fans. The Scream franchise is one of the least imaginative franchises of the past few decades, and the fans love it that way. It’s like a familiar Metallica blanket. Worn, faded, and with only a facade of transgressive attitude, it’s ultimately really safe in the most boring of ways.

      The first one was almost dangerous. The rest have been boringly safe.

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