Many critics and film reviews have dissed the fourth installment to the Scream franchise, describing it as an outdated take on the teen slasher genre. I beg to differ. While critics have panned this unexpected return to the big screen 15 years after the original, I believe that it is loads better than most of the expensive 3D garbage served up by big time Hollywood execs nowadays, or the countless horror reboots that serve only to ruin the image of the cult classics we have grown to love throughout the years (case in point Nightmare on Elm Street).
In this installment, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), the survivor of the Woodsboro Massacre on which the teen slasher hit franchise Stab are based (Stab is the fictional equivalent of Scream in the movie), returns to town 15 years after the gruesome incident for a book tour of her self help book entitled Out of the Darkness. The day of her book signing, Scream alum Deputy Dewey (now Sheriff Riley) bursts into the bookstore with the entire police force to check on a lead on the fresh murders of two teenage girls, whom they suspect are victims of a copycat killer. The MO is still the same. The killer calls the intended victims to toy with them and ask trivia about scary movies. Upon failing the unwinnable test, the killer butchers the unlucky cast member with a Buck 120 blade. Former news reporter Gale Weathers, who is now married to Dewey, also makes an appearance, and stubbornly launches her own investigation into the new murders with a bunch of young filmmakers who know horror movies like the back of their hand.
The film basically centers around the deconstruction of the horror genre, with the script spewing out most of the rules of teen horror flicks, and even the role of cops in movies. It makes reference to the Saw franchise and other scary movies and explains the shift in the genre from the original Stab (or Scream) to the present. It also explains the advent of technology and the different means that these new gadgets can be harnessed by filmmakers in reaching a wider viewership and presenting new forms of art (in reference to youtube and live streaming). New decade. New rules indeed. Audiences will definitely enjoy thinking back on their favorite scary flicks to see if these theories ring true.
The beginning, for me, was a bit corny with two false openings before the actual one. I thought the filmmakers took the cliche too far on that one. However, the chases were still exciting and there was still the element of surprise despite the fact that most of the actors have already predicted what was going to happen to them based on the rules of horror. Scream 4 was also not short of a wealth of suspects. There was Julie, the overeager deputy who mentioned early on in the film that she would have wanted to be on the force during the Woodsboro murder investigation. There was also Sidney’s agent/road manager, who was overexcited about the publicity that Ghostface’s reemergence brought to the book tour. There was the clingy and creepy ex-boyfriend of Sidney’s niece Jill, who called her at all times and made it a hobby to prank call using the Ghostface voice. It could also be Gale herself, because she was tired of sitting around waiting for things to happen to her while Sid took over the world. Or maybe it was Sidney’s weird aunt Kate, who seemed to begrudge Sidney her fame? Or it could be the weird film geek who was the expert on all things Stab?
I think that Scream 4, with its all star cast, is trying to prove that it too could move forward and bring this new breed of audience to like the type of slasher flick that was all the rage in the 90s. In doing so, the team of Kevin Williamson (sreenwriter) and director Wes Craven, went on a killing frenzy, butchering half of Woodsboro faster than the audience could guess who the new killer/killers were, then throw them off by presenting even more suspects. While there were a lot of deaths in the first three installments, this new sequel, matched the body count in this one movie than all of them combined. Towards the end, I thought that the killer’s monologue during the reveal was a tad too lengthy, killing the momentum of the otherwise strong sequence.
Kudos to the the filmmakers for sticking to their guns and staying true to the elements that made the originals successful. If anybody knows how to stalk teenagers with a long and sharp knife, that’s Wes Craven. If anybody knows how to dish out dipping sarcasm and horror geekiness, Williamson is the guy. I appreciated that the filmmakers did the movie simply and did not lose sight of the vision it had for the franchise. While Scream is simply a glorified popcorn movie, I applaud them for having enough respect for the franchise by moving the story forward instead of riding the reboot bandwagon and tweaking on the original with a new cast and loads of 3D. It was brave on the part of the film outfit to greenlight such a project because this type of film is not exactly the type of film that this generation is used to.
Scream 4 did not use CGI and other high tech graphics in telling the story of Ghostface, whose been around killing teens way before all this 3D stuff came about. There is still a beauty to telling a story, which does not involve driving the audiences crazy with too many twists and turns, and do it in a straightforward manner. Killer on the loose, bring out the clues, figure it out. If you can’t, then wait for the reveal. Simple. Old school. The only effects you’ll really need in a film like this is a scary mask and loads and loads of fake blood.
I may be a tad biased about this film because Scream is basically the slasher flick that defined my generation. Perhaps, it is also for this reason that I find myself forgiving some of its lapses. Scream 4 does not hold a candle to the original, but it was a decent effort. Besides, it was because of Scream that other hits like Urban Legend and I Know What You Did Last Summer came to be. I don’t really think that the fourth installment was necessary to the franchise, and the story was pretty much an add on. But it was nice to visit Woodsboro with Sidney and the gang once more. I kind of missed it after a while.