Scre4m (Scream 4): Every Scream Film Has its Purpose.

(NOTE: During this review I’ll be referring to the killer/killers by the generic term “he,” so as not to spoil anything for those who have yet to see the film.)

The first Scream commented on horror films in general, slasher films in particular.  Scream 2 commented on sequels.  Scream 3 commented on trilogies.  And now we have Scream 4, which comments on — remakes?

Ignoring for the moment Scream 4 isn’t a remake — and doesn’t really qualify as a reboot — what does it have to say which hasn’t already been said by millions of horror fans across the globe who complain about the very same thing?  The answer: not much.

Scream 4 starts off with an interesting and effective double-blind before settling into a familiar story concerning a copycat killer inspired by the Stab films (echoes of Scream 2 and 3) .  The venerable Sidney Prescott has made an ill-advised decision to return to Woodsboro, where the original Scream killings took place, to pimp a book she’s written about how she became a survivor rather than a victim.  Of course, Ghost Face returns as well and starts hacking up anyone and everyone even remotely associated with Sidney.

On the case is Dewie Riley, now sheriff of Woodsboro, and his wife, former tabloid reporter Gayle Weathers.  Interesting the two are married in this film, considering that in real life, the two are going through a separation. But I digress.

Ghost Face’s main target seems to be Jill, Sidney’s younger cousin, daughter of Sidney’s heretofore never-mentioned aunt (echoes of the never-mentioned familial ties in Scream 3).  However, unlike previous Ghost Faces, this one likes to record his kills on camera — or at least so the film says, though most of his kills are, in fact, NOT recorded.  But I digress again.

Actually, digression seems to be the right word to use in regards to Scream 4 (sorry,  I refuse to use the idiotic typographical skewing of the title — it’s Scream 4, not Screa-Four-m.)   The movie tends to veer off course on a number of occasions; the killer warns Sidney he’s out to get her, then sets out killing everyone else instead.  There are a number of times where he could have easily killed Sidney off and got away Scot-free, but then we wouldn’t have a movie, would we?

The movie throws a lot of characters at us, a good percentage of which have no real bearing on the story and whose given deaths have no real bearing on the other characters.  There’s a little more grue this time around in comparison to the last one, but it’s “Hollywood” gore — which is to say it’s neat, clean and tidy.  Even the  messiest moments of the film seem to color within the lines.  In other words, you feel like the characters have had fake blood professionally applied; they have no real jarring or visceral impact, save for one effect near the finale which will at least have the male members of the audience crossing their legs.

Performances are what you’d expect in a mainstream, “safe” horror movie.    Neve Campbell seems to have dialed her performance in, and you get the idea she’s only here because bigger roles have dried up for her.  But this is an actress capable of  Oscar-calibre performances (why she wasn’t even nominated for 2004′s When Will I Be Loved is beyond me) so you expect more from her.  Even the other major characters seem to be reciting their lines as if by rote.  David Arquette, usually a highlight of the Scream films due to his quirky humor, falls flat here, and Courtney Cox’s Gayle Riley-nee-Weathers is almost a non-entity.  Ten years have passed in the lives of these characters and you’d expect more depth.  But there isn’t any.

The stalk and slash scenes are typical of previous Scream films.  Lots of running away, lots of Ghost Face falling or being pushed aside (he must be  filmdom’s clumsiest masked slasher).  You get the feelings you’ve seen these kills before, and in the case of a garage-door killing, you pretty much have.

Writer Williamson does his best, but the simple fact is the material is far too familiar for it to ever be scary anymore.  There is one absolutely great line during the finale —  you’ll know it when you hear it — but otherwise, even the killer’s/killers’ explanation seems empty and unconvincing.  In regards to direction, this is the kind of stuff Craven can pull off with his eyes closed.  The staging of scenes, the camera angles used, the execution of jump scares — there’s nothing new or interesting here.  It’s bad enough when the actors perform as if by rote; it’s even worse when the director follows suit.  Not to mention the performances of the younger, newer characters in the film are almost too hip for their own good.

Now, that’s not to say the film is bad.  It’s well-made, technically adequate if not proficient, and the screenplay has its moments.  But in comparison to the overall series, I’d rate this one as being slightly better than Scream 3 — though that’s not saying a hell of a lot.

For a film whose dubious intention is to reboot a formerly (no pun intended) cutting-edge franchise, Scream 4 is average horror filler at best.

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