Dir. Wes Craven
Ten years have passed since Sidney Prescott survived violent attempts on her life by the ‘Ghostface Killer.’ She has rebuilt her life through writing about her experiences. Returning to her hometown of Woodsboro on the anniversary of the original massacre to promote her new book reunites her with old friends, bumbling cop Dewey and reporter Gale Weathers. However, Sidney’s return also sparks a violent killing spree suggesting someone else from the past seeks a reunion with her; albeit a reunion sodden in blood…
The legacy of Scream is undeniable. It succeeded because as well as providing a commentary on the horror genre, particularly slasher movies, it was also suspenseful and scary. In its wake of savvy self-awareness, ironic humour and biting reflexivity, horror was never the same again. Audiences have been inundated with sub-par, second rate slashers with hip casts spouting self-indulgent and ‘knowing’ dialogue which also served as a critique of modern horror cinema and its audiences. What started off as a breath of fresh air for the lumbering genre, soon became stale.
Skip forward a decade and director Wes Craven has re-teamed with writer Kevin Williamson to return to the leafy suburbs of Woodsboro to revisit victim/survivor/long-suffering Sidney (Neve Campbell) and provide more cutting edge commentary on the past decade of horror cinema. Initially conceived as a trilogy, the prior Scream movies, with the exception of the weaker third entry, were critically lauded and most would agree it was fine to leave the series there. There was a sense of closure. The more cynically inclined may suggest the filmmakers, or rather the production company Dimension Films, were in dire need of a hit to boost studio profits in these cash-strapped times. Others, including Craven and Williamson, insist there is still a story to be told regarding Sidney and her blood-dark past, hence this, the fourth film in the series and possible springboard for a whole new trilogy.
A riveting opening scene harks back to the original’s, and perfectly reflects the playfulness the series has become renowned for, expertly setting up our expectations, toying with them and then blindsiding us completely with twist after ever-surprising twist. Everything from Saw and ‘torture-porn’ to Hollywood remakes and the very concept of post-modern horror cinema is raked over the coals of savvy critical analysis that is the unmistakably Williamson penned Scream movie dialogue. And that’s just the first 15 minutes. After this however, the film never manages to reach the same dizzying levels of daring and ingenuity, and proceeds rather conventionally, though no less entertainingly. At their heart, the Scream films have always been murder mystery tales with each instalment featuring a different killer connected to Sidney’s life in some sordid way. Scream 4 is no different here, though the revelation of the killer and their motives may annoy rather than rivet. Though in this crazy meta world we’re living in, one could argue this surprisingly conventional twist is unconventional in its conventionalism. Or something.
At times Scream 4 tries a little too hard to prove its relevance in contemporary horror, but there are instances when Williamson’s script does touch on a number of insightful concepts. When one character states forlornly: “One generation's tragedy is the next one's joke”, it seems to suggest how things change through the years; one generation’s relevant and groundbreaking horror flick is the next generation’s old hat. When Scream first leapt out at unsuspecting audiences back in the late Nineties, it was the fresh-faced, opinionated new kid on the horror block. Scream 4 sets itself up as something deliberately more ‘old-school.’
Craven’s direction tautly builds the momentum and while certain sections are quite pedestrian, there are a number of expertly executed set-pieces, particularly the stalking scene in a multi-story car park. A very likable cast also enhances proceedings and the returning trio of Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox are an asset to the film. Seeing them together again is akin to catching up with old friends and their bond really helps lend the film much needed heart.
In keeping with the current trend of ultra-violent, ‘torture-porn’ films, Scream 4 is by far the most violent instalment of the series and the ferocity of some of the attacks is intensely unnerving. Craven references the work of horror masters Dario Argento and John Carpenter, while Williamson’s hyper-meta screenplay not only unravels as a tantalising and gory murder mystery, but also a scathing critique of the state of the horror genre, post-Scream. Scream 4, like its predecessors, is also a love-letter to fans of the genre, and this is no more evident than during a particularly humorous moment in the Stab movie marathon scene. The beer-swilling audience recite lines from the movie they’re watching as they are spoken onscreen. Another particularly ingenious and barbed jab comes when horror-nut Kirby (Hayden Panetierre) is quizzed by Ghostface on recent remakes and systematically rhymes off a shockingly lengthy and precise list.
While nowhere near as daring as it should have been, Scream 4 is a definite mark up on Scream 3 (sorry Parker Posey - I still love you!) and not bad for the fourth instalment of a series that arguably should have remained a trilogy. Perhaps the most incisive, relevant and potent remark quipped onscreen is the last line spoken: “Number one rule of a remake, don't f**k with the original.”