Buzz’s Review: “Scream 4″ (2011)

Neve Campbell and Emma Roberts in "Scream 4"

Ever since The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was given a glossy, amped-up, post-millennial makeover back in 2003, Hollywood has had a love/hate relationship with its own fattened herd of cash cows – the horror franchise. Over the past decade remakes and sequels have piled up like so many lifeless, teenaged corpses at Camp Crystal Lake, and in most cases these retreads, reboots and reimaginings have failed to bring something legitimately fresh to the table while still maintaining the integrity of the original series.

With Scream 4, Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson have just managed to push the slasher movie through the looking glass. Unfortunately, I can’t discuss exactly how without revealing major plot points and the film’s central twist. Earlier this week my two beloved counselors/cabana boys Kyle Raymond and Ross each posted their spoiler-free reviews of Scream 4 – if you haven’t seen the film and don’t want to have its magic dulled for you, I’d like to direct you to those reviews now (here’s Kyle’s, and here’s Ross’s).

Spoiler: Not in the movie!

For those of us who have seen the film (or who don’t plan to), I’d like to use this review as an opportunity to discuss Scream 4 in all its blood-soaked, batshit glory. When I started this site many years ago, it was mostly to discuss iconic genre movies that had been bubbling about the communal consciousness for years, and addressing their individual intricacies was a necessary part of that. I’d like to do the same for Scream 4, as I think it deserves it.

So, my short review? See Scream 4. It’s not perfect, and suffers from a few of the shortcomings of the original films – namely the pacing issues in the middle third. The death scenes are uninspired when compared to the originals, and some of the sequences feel rushed or slapped-together. But overall the movie is bright and bloody and enjoyable, and is completely worth seeing when you stand back and look at what the filmmakers have done with this genre that we all know and love.

Now, a warning -  MANY SPOILERS TO FOLLOW.

In Scream 4, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns to her hometown of Woodsboro a self-help guru recently embarked on a book tour to promote her “keep your chin up!” memoir Out of the Darkness. She’s a bland, corporate version of the Sidney we last saw 10 years ago – shepherded around by a bitchy publicist (Community‘s Alison Brie), she’s a victim who has cashed in her fight for a safe spot on the coffee tables and daytime talk shows of middle-class America.

In short, she’s a Final Girl for the Real Housewives generation.

Sid’s homecoming is of course a cause for chaos – as soon as she sets foot back in Woodsboro, copycat murders of the original Screams start happening all over town. The first set – brilliantly obscured by not one, but TWO fake-outs graciously provided by the movies-within-the-movie Stab franchise and cameo-ready starlets like Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Lucy Hale and Shenae Grimes – gives us a taste of what we’re in for, as a set of slasher-savvy teens with ghoulish senses of humor (Aimee Teegarden and Brittany Robertson) find themselves falling prey to a new Ghostface.

Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen

But this time, the victims themselves aren’t entirely innocent – one of the girls actually precipitates the double-murder by playing a Stab-related prank on her friend. The subtle but important takeaway? In this post-slasher slasher, being self-aware isn’t enough to save you – and nothing is entirely what it seems.

We are soon introduced to a new batch of teens/pincushions, who are tied to the previous trilogy by Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts), Sidney’s cousin. Jill receives a call from Ghostface the morning after the murders while she’s in the car with her bestie Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) and neighbor Olivia (Marielle Jaffe).

The film is quick to line up parallels between Jill and Sidney – she has a boyfriend (Trevor, played by Nico Tortorella) who may or may not have a shady side, and a film nerd guy friend (Charlie, played by Rory Culkin), and lives in the shadow of not only the prior Sidney-related carnage but also the original murder of Maureen Prescott, her aunt (and sister of her mother, played by conspicuous big name Mary McDonnell).

David Arquette

We also catch up with Sheriff Riley (David Arquette) and now-wife Gale Weathers-Riley (Courteney Cox), who is now attempting to become a novelist. Dewey has an attentive deputy named Judy (Marley Shelton, providing the movie’s only real comic relief) and of course a new pile of bodies to deal with.

From here, the standard Scream rondelay of misdirection, cloaked cell-phone numbers, and knifeplay kicks in, likely to the delight of millions of Scream devotees. In what is likely the most meta moment of a film whose very existence is self-referential, hundreds of Stab fans gather to celebrate the series of films that re-enact the grisly murders in their hometown with a screening marathon and drinking game. Fans of the Scream trilogy all over the country celebrated the release of Scream 4 by rewatching the original films, and this very site posted its own Scream 4 drinking game last week, with no knowledge that the film featured one as well.

It seems that this time around, the killers – as it is made clear fairly early-on that there are two, as in the two original films – are filming the murders in order to achieve Internet fame. Nothing new or original there – the killer in Scream 2 was also a budding auteur. In fact, aside from ratcheting the self-awareness from the prior installments (which also featured the films-within-a-film and horror-savvy teens), very little has been added to the formula so far.

Whodunit?

So what’s the big deal? Isn’t this just another Scream movie, with a higher bodycount and a more elaborate opening-scene death?

It is … until we get to the crucial scene where the killer is unmasked. From this point on, things get very, very interesting – and this is where Scream 4 pushes the slasher formula up to the next level.

It is revealed – and again, HUGE SPOILER HERE – that Jill – whom we have held to be our “new” Final Girl, in Sidney’s mold – is the killer and mastermind. Having seen Sidney’s return as a means of manufacturing a Great American Tragedy with a plum Sole Survivor role at the center, she has orchestrated the melee to paint herself as the tragic Final Girl and instantly become the most famous person in the world.

Having the killer and the Final Girl be one and the same is a stroke of genius. That’s not to say that it hasn’t been done before, because it has – in fact, there’s another better-than-average teen slasher from just a few years back (that has yet to be released) that employs the same trick. But in the context of a reboot/sequel that outwardly seemed to be introducing a new generation of victims and survivors to the Scream universe, this turnaround is absolutely HILARIOUS. I have some issues with the execution of the film (I admit I was a little bored for about half of it), but all my disappointments faded away as soon as Jill started running face-first into mirrors and diving through glass coffee tables like the horror-fed crackbaby that she is. (And hats off to Roberts for doing a pretty great job in playing both sides of Jill’s coin.)

See, the one thing that had always kept me from loving the Scream movies more than life itself was that I hated the central mystery. And let’s remember, Scream aren’t traditional slashers – they’re a specific subgenre we could call Mystery Killer slashers that force the potential victims to piece together a crime or long-lost mystery in order to identify their attacker and save themselves. Prom Night, Terror Train, The Prowler, My Bloody Valentine, and the original Friday the 13th similarly employed masked killers with agendas to propel the storyline, but in most cases the victims were too oblivious of their situations to do any proper sleuthing. In the Scream franchise, the characters’ fundamental self-awareness empowered them to be more actively involved in the solving of the central mystery – and I think it is this active participation that made the movies the fun, interactive experience that they were.

The only problem? The central mystery suuuuuuuucked.

Maureen Prescott was a tramp? Who the fuck cares! Seriously – the fact that three movies and countless corpses resulted from Sidney’s mom being a bit of a goodtime girl is pretty ridiculous.

The fact that Scream 4 introduces a completely new motive and dispenses entirely with the fallout from Maureen’s dalliances is like a breath of fresh air to me. I’d much rather see someone bumping off their friends because they want to be famous than watch killer after killer try to settle some lame, overplayed personal vendetta. My only hope is that if there is a Scream 5, it will leave the first-cycle mystery in the vaults.

Alison Brie

Otherwise I enjoyed the film, awkward hip-speak and instantly-dated technologies and all. Looking back, only a few sequences really stood out (the opening; the Olivia murder; Jill’s self-mutilation and flashbulb-enhanced trip to the hospital), and others felt either rushed (the maybe-gay webcam guy’s back-porch death), too familiar (Alison Brie’s parking garage stalk was more fun in Cursed, Williamson and Craven’s last film together), or just plain unnecessary (the cops got a wholes scene? Really?) . But I think that the ends more than justify the means – especially when the ends were the huge smile on my face when I left the theater.

Scream 4 was a sequel that had a massive amount of expectation attached to it, and I think that in terms of its aim to reinvent itself without losing what made the franchise so beloved in the first place (including its core three characters), it did a fantastic job. I’m only hoping that, like its Stab cousin, Scream 5 involves time-travel so that we can revisit this clever spin on the slasher formula again and again.

RATING (OUT OF 5):

Scream 4 is Rated R for gore, a high body count, harm to Courteney Cox’s face (offscreen), adult language, and Rory Culkin’s fug hair.


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About Buzz

Buzz created CampBlood.org in 2003 to meet a need for a safe place for weirdos of all stripes to discuss horror movies from a queer perspective. Now that the campers have overtaken the Camp staff and locked them in the Arts & Crafts cabin he is questioning that decision.