Directed by Wes Craven, Written by Kevin Williamson, 106 minutes, Rated R.
By our guest blogger, Matthew Schimkowitz
By the time the “Scream” saga crash landed into its third part, the magic was all but gone, as the series lost sight of what made it worth watching in the first place – deconstruct the scares, while continuing to use them. In the first two films, Director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson proved they could sustain this balancing act, but only for so long, finding their once strong premise hacked to bits, like so many teenagers, by part three.
Well, it’s a decade a later and not much has changed.
Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns the small town that made her the most famous victim in the meta-world in “Scream 4,” and a new horror film-obsessed serial killer is waiting for her. This springs former reporter and uninspired writer Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and her goofy husband Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) into action, looking for another mystery to solve. But since they are a bit old for this type of thing, Ghostface casts Sydney’s teenage cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) to star in the remake of Sydney’s horrors.
Much of “Scream 4” seems inevitable. Williamson has some fun with the idea of remakes and found footage; once again, deconstructing the conventions of modern horror – after all, the rules have changed. As such, Craven seems equally adept in recreating the look of the original film, showing, yet again, some of the most seamless directing of his career. However, while “Scream” dealt with rules Craven helped standardize, he struggles to make the new ones scary. And there in lies the problem: “Scream 4” never seems as interested in utilizing the new form as much as it is in talking about it.
Craven has trouble linking all these new rules, which are lot less stable than the '80s slasher, to his cast. This split even appears in the script when Williamson’s characters complain about the lack of character development. Craven’s film is no different. There’s little left to say about Sydney Prescott and even less to say about these new victims. Ghostface, too, gets a raw deal, and the killer gets the Freddy treatment, focusing more heavily on catchphrases and puns than actually getting the job done. As a result, despite some clever observations, the film resembles the very thing it so frequently scoffs at: A lifeless slasher.
As a remake, “Scream 4” is clever in its execution, poking fun at the genre’s lack of originality and the desire to get something for nothing. But amidst the jabs at newfangled horror, there lies distinct feeling that we’ve seen this all before with much more frightening results.