Mark Reviews Movies

Scream 4


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Wes Craven

Cast: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Erik Knudsen, Nico Tortorella, Marley Shelton, Marielle Jaffe, Alison Brie, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, Mary McDonnell

MPAA Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, language and some teen drinking)

Running Time: 1:51

Release Date: 4/15/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 14, 2011

Fifteen years ago, a horror movie called Scream arrived and changed the way characters in horror movies talk about their situation. It was as daring—in having its characters admit that there are certain conventions or "rules," as it dubbed them, to the genre—as it was trivial—in relying on those same clichés it so knowingly acknowledged, allowing its characters to be mercilessly murdered by a knife-wielding maniac because they couldn't heed their own advice.

The series got better, particularly with its first sequel, which didn't just state the rules through its mouthpieces but had the courage to play with them. Scream 4 returns to the beginning with a similar scenario (A fact pointed out repeatedly by new and returning characters) and the same spirit of pointing out a supposedly new and decidedly vague set of rules without commenting upon them through the events surrounding them. It's an inherently lazy effort, though one that puts a lot of work into not appearing so.

It begins with, neither one nor not two, but three opening killings, with the movie-within-the-movie actually containing another movie within that movie, as the characters on the trio of screens debate how predictable the pre-title slaughter scene is. The meta-level layering and critical dialogue about horror movies in this sequence (characters with little to no development, predictable scare setups, and shocking turns that don't make much sense) are calls for variation that Kevin Williamson's script leave largely unanswered once the plot proper kicks into gear.

On the anniversary of the beginning of the string of murders that left Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) physically and psychologically wounded over the years, she, believing herself safe, returns to her hometown to speak about the book she's written on becoming more than just a famous victim. Her arrival coincides with the brutal killings of two high school girls, preceded by the same sort of tormenting prank calls that announced the death of many of Sydney's former friends and acquaintances.

A pair, at least, is still around. Dewey Riley (David Arquette), now Sherriff, and Gale Weathers-Riley (Courteney Cox), now attempting to leave behind sensationalistic journalism for a career writing fiction, are married and trying to keep their personal and professional lives separate ("Later, hon," Dewey intones during a press conference about the killings after Gale asks if there's any connection to the movies made out of her books). Sydney's cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) is a student at the local high school, and she and her friends Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) and Olivia (Marielle Jaffe) knew the girls who were murdered. Jill gets a call asking about her favorite scary movie like those deceased classmates received before her and so many others answered before them.

What's unique and ultimately undermining to this entry is in illustrating how devoted the series has become, not to genre concerns, but to itself. Where the first two movies addressed terminology and trends in more general ways, this one follows an undying devotion to its own created universe. Characters discuss the seemingly endless franchise of fictional Stab movies, based—at least at first—on the "real world" events we've been watching (They've gotten less concerned with reality, we learn from a character who bemoans the phony fifth movie's time-travel plot).

The recent batch of horror is left to a passing mention of "torture porn" (by a character in one of the movies within this one (or perhaps the movie within that one)), while remakes and rebooted franchises earn a bit more of Williamson's chagrin. While being tested by the killer over the phone, Kirby answers one question by listing an extended run of horror remakes, just to drive the point—and only that point—home.

The unmistakable irony is that here we have a rehashed version of the first movie, though with the realization of said irony in characters pointing out the similarities. The killer, they suspect, is performing his or her or their own remake, complete with the same red herring structure (Jill's boyfriend (Nico Tortorella) pops up at inopportune moments, and her mother (Mary McDonnell) seems a bit jealous of the attention toward Sydney, don't you think?), moments of startles timed exactly as we've come to expect (Director Wes Craven misses the mention of how predictable the killer appearing out of nowhere is during the prologue and proceeds to do the same), and a level of viciousness that undercuts the jokes.

Realizing and only stating the obvious is not effective satire, and in this case, it's an excuse. To wit: Scream 4, which finds a truly bold possibility in the revelation of its killer (whose motive makes little sense in context), ends instead with an additional, ridiculous second climax, during which a character says, "This is just silly." How easily self-reference can veer into accurate self-criticism.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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