Fourth movies in film series do not have a good track record, unless the franchise is James Bond. Most film series peter out by the third movie and the fourth movie is just a hollow cash grab. When seeing Scream 4 (I know the actual title is Scre4m but I cant bring myself to do that) I was nervous that it would follow such shining example as Superman IV, Next Karate Kid, Terminator Salvation, Batman and Robin and Rocky IV and do even more damage to the series but I was hopeful. Since all the main ingredients that made Scream such a good movie was back, maybe this film could buck the trend. I am happy to report that it did mainly for the fact that the movie actually had something to say.
Scream 4 is set 10 years after the events of the third film and Sidney Prescott (Neve Cambell) has put the horrible incidents from her past away and has become a best selling author. On the anniversary of her mother’s death and the anniversary of the Woodsboro massacre, Sidney makes her last stop of her book tour in her old hometown. Now if I was the Sheriff like Dewey (David Arquette) I might suggest that Sidney come back to town ANY other weekend of the year, but that is just me thinking rational. Like clockwork when Sidney shows up Ghostface is back to stab a lot of people many times over and thanks to some well placed evidence in Sidney’s car she is connected and can not hightail it out of town. Since Sidney has to stay put she decides that she might as well protect her cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and friends from being the next victims.
Lets get the bad out of the way first. For me the whole jokey opening did not work at all. To have all these stars showing up for a few minutes to be brutally cut up for no reason was just distracting. I know the creators were trying to recapture the beginning of Scream but that worked so well because we didn’t know that Drew Barrymore was going to be killed and since it was Drew Barrymore we were rooting for her to escape, and when she didn’t it was shocking. To have all these celebrity cameos in the front of the film felt like a bad Austin Powers scene. It wasn’t scary, it wasn’t funny and it reeked of desperation. By the time the credits started rolling I was scared of what this movie would be and I am very thankful it got a lot better from that point on.
Another problem I had with the film was all of the characters plot’s felt disjointed from each other. We have Gale (Courtney Cox) and Dewey’s relationship drama (this film series is meta even when it doesn’t try to be) Sidney being back in town, the deputies in town and then the stories revolving around all the new teenagers in town. All of these stories seem to be in their own little world and seldom meshed with one another. Since there were so many plots going around some of the characters got the short end of the stick. And after the film I still couldn’t figure out why the great Mary McDonnell was even in the movie with such a small part. Dewey and Gail were also under used and Dewey always seemed to be driving towards the massacre and reacting instead of being a driving force in the plot.
These are the problems I had with the film, none of them were that big and everything else I enjoyed the hell out of. Like I stated earlier unlike many cash grabs screenwriter Kevin Williamson actually had a story to tell with the movie. I am always skeptical of stories in the press with the cast and crew saying that the script was SO good that they had to do the movie. Bruce Willis, even though I love him, has said that every single Die Hard is the “best one yet” and reminds him of the first one. So when Cambell, Cox and Arquette said this about Scream 4 I was skeptical because the truth of the matter is no one has had a great film career aside from these films. Now that I have seen the film I actually believe them when they say that the screenplay was that good because it did remind me of the first film.
I can’t really get into why I really liked the script or what Kevin Williamson was out to say in the film because it would spoil the ending. But let me just say I don’t think the creators of the franchise are big fans of the new type of Internet and instant celebrity culture. The first film was the one film in the franchise that had a great ending and good motives for the killer. Their plot worked and the killings had reason behind them but then the second one kind of repeated the first in terms of motive and the third had the horrible “mastermind” behind the whole franchise killer that almost killed the series. So when I actually liked the killer reveal, I was just a bit surprised. I felt like the ten years absence might have really helped this franchise because the dialogue and set pieces felt fresh and fresh is usually something you don’t see when there is a 4 behind the name of a title.
After the beginning hiccup Wes Craven was again in his element and directing the hell out of the thrilling set pieces. These scenes would never be considered scary because anyone that is a fan of the series knows the rundown of what is going to happen, but the movie gave up on its horror roots long ago and is now more of a mystery thriller than anything else. I couldn’t help but grin when I saw how some of the scenes were being set up and more often than not Craven made these scenes the best he could. Sometimes even going against expectations to something unexpected in the end.
Finally, I believe that one of the unsung reasons the Scream franchise is so loved is because of the characters/actors. Typical slasher films have characters that you don’t care about and are looking forward to seeing dispatched while Scream has always been the rare exception in the genre to create characters that you actually like and want to spend time with. I think I can safely say that no movie has used Jamie Kennedy, Matthew Lilard, David Arquette and Neve Campbell to better use. Thanks to the writing, directing and acting these characters are fun, funny and not just stabbing victims. Scream 4 adds to the list of characters you like and I believe that Hayden Panettiere and Emma Roberts were great in the film. Panettiere, who was such a fun character in the first season of Heroes, really comes to live in this film and was a good successor to both Randy and the best friend role. She is fun and lively in this role and I hope more movies use her to this extent in the future. Emma Roberts had the hard task of being a Sidney clone but making you like her anyway and I think she did a great job with her role. Finally, Neve Campbell fit perfectly back into the grove of Sidney and added a tougher edge to the role that was greatly appreciated.
Scream was a favorite franchise of mine growing up and I can remember the fun times I had watching the movies with old friends. I went into Scream 4 less with a hope of it being any good but more for nostalgia sake. I am happy and a little bit surprised to say that it is a worthy entry into the series and is only a little behind the original in terms of quality. If you are so inclined dig out that old flannel, drive your car with Bush blaring out the speakers and watch Scream 4. Because for a few hours one of the best things about the 90’s will be alive and well again.
Scream 4 (2011)
Directed by Wes Craven.
Screenplay by Kevin Williamson.
Starring Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courtney Cox.