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There’s a visual gloss over SCREAM 4 for its entire running
time, a severe case of soft focus that keeps the film from ever feeling real,
or tangible. It serves as a reflection of the fact that while the first SCREAM,
through its dialogue and narrative, had a way of conversing with its audience
and then-current time period, SCREAM 4—in trying to capture 2011—doesn’t seem
to realize that when every emotion or action is a witty, referential punchline,
the consequences aren’t felt and the whole thing just seems fake and empty,
rather than clever and irreverent.
After a prolonged opening sequence that bests the Liev
Schreiber-centric SCREAM 3 introduction (but doesn’t hold a candle to either of
the first two), SCREAM 4 essentially hits the ground running. I joked before
the film that it should be a two-and-a-half-hour epic, but in a tale with an
overabundance of supporting and side characters and the intent of transferring
focus to a younger lineup, time needs to be spent setting up their lives and
relationships, for the sake of not only good character work but building a
As Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns to Woodsboro on
the last stop of her book tour, Ghostface makes its return, striking at Sid and
the now-married Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale (Courteney Cox), as well as a
new crop of potential victims including Sidney’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and
her circle of friends. These include modern riffs on Randy (Rory Culkin’s
Charlie and Erik Knudsen’s Robbie), Billy (Nico Tortorella’s Trevor) and Tatum
(Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby).
From its outset, SCREAM 4 constantly calls back to the first
and second films, either through lines or staging of scenes—and, funnily
enough, seems overall to often be commenting on mere surface-value concerns
regarding lame remakes and reboots. Commenting is all the film does, however.
When director Wes Craven is not visually demonstrating the parallels, Kevin
Williamson’s dialogue is a sarcastic attempt to dissect the state of modern
studio horror, begging the audience to laugh just at the fact that this film’s
studio seems to “get it.”
But Dimension’s Weinstein brothers are the equivalent of a
complaining friend, offering problems and no solutions (though some of the
stinging observations are pretty funny, however). The film can reel off the
modern annoyances and contrivances of big-budgeted horror all it wants, but
that doesn’t stop it from adhering to all of them. Those contradictions are
what’s truly jarring about SCREAM 4. The remnants of Williamson’s work
(reportedly rewritten by SCREAM 3’s Ehren Kruger, credited here as an executive
producer) feel compromised and constantly at war with what’s on screen,
resulting in a movie that has true potential to point outside the comfort zone,
but never leaves the box.
Craven’s presence is barely felt. He’s a director that,
throughout his career, has been able to stage stunning, atmospheric setpieces
and prolonged suspense sequences, almost always nailing the payoff as well. SCREAM
4, with its rushed nature, doesn’t do so, and never gets the tension boiling—or
even lets it start building, as the chase-and-kill scenes are over before you
know it, without much spectacle. Even the most memorable offing is utterly
ruined by an unfunny, irritating joke. It’s sad that the film couldn’t even
take its deaths seriously, and like the lack of development of its new
characters, that just softens the resonance of the content.
Still, the new additions do feel fresh and welcome, and
performance-wise everyone fares quite well, especially (and surprisingly)
Panettiere, who’s often funny and charming, most accurately capturing the feel
of a SCREAM film. The presences of Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody and Marley
Shelton as Dewey’s surrounding officers are often smile-inducing, but at the
same time—like Mary McDonnell’s Aunt Kate—they really don’t get much to do.
Indeed, since almost everyone in the giant cast is given only limited screen
time, they all feel like cameos, rather than inhabitants of Woodsboro. Even
Sidney, Dewey and Gale feel like guest stars in their own franchise. Since the
SCREAM films have never really been about the adults before, and the three
protagonists have now reached that stage, it could’ve been an interesting and
poignant idea to run with their presence in our “youth rules everything”
climate, but instead they just waddle along the sidelines, just barely stealing
some small and hilarious moments along the way.
And there are small and hilarious moments along the way.
SCREAM 4 is often silly/entertaining and an overall fun experience. In the
context of what the franchise had become with SCREAM 3, it’s a worthy sequel,
and definitely superior to its predecessor. But in the end, SCREAM 4 is like
post-2000 Green Day: bouncy and aggressive, reaching to be subversive and
biting, but ultimately just no longer punk-rock enough to be rebellious,
revolutionary or challenging.
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