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Movie Review: ‘Scream 4′

April 15, 2011

Good lord, has it already been over 10 years since the last Scream movie?  It’s hard to believe that Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven first turned the horror genre on its head way back in 1996 (Scream 3 came out in 2000).

That first Scream film felt fresh in the stale horror market, offering up a tale of teenagers being stalked and killed by the “Ghostface” killer. What was so fun about the series was that the kids being stalked were horror movie fanatics, thus they new the “rules” of the genre. The movie playfully skewered the very genre it was depicting. The film spawned two sequels featuring original heroine Sidney (Neve Campbell) reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Deputy Dewey (David Arquette).

All three characters return in Scream 4, which takes place in Sidney’s hometown of Woodsboro. Sidney has authored a successful book about her ordeal, and has come home for a booksigning. No sooner does she arrive than the bodies starting stacking up. Like all the Scream movies, the film is essentially a whodunit.  This time Sidney’s Aunt (Mary McDonnell) and cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) get pulled into the fray, since Sidney is staying with them.

The film opens with a bunch of teenagers watching Stab 6 and 7 (based on the Woodsboro killings) and lamenting the state of Asian cinema and torture porn.

Film scribe Williamson returns and keeps the story timely with text messages, web-cams, and iPhone apps each playing a role in the meta story. This time around, it seems that the killer is filming his handiwork, no doubt to make the ultimate horror film. Of course, everyone seems like they could be a suspect, but what’s the motive?

In addition to the familiar principal characters, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Alison Brie, Nico Tortorella, Marielle Jaffe, and Erik Knudsen come on board as oddly complacent teens from Woodsboro High. Despite the fact that there is a slaughter taking place in their town, the kids eagerly gather for a yearly Stab movie marathon at a secret location.

Marley Shelton plays a deputy who seems all to eager to jump into Dewey’s arms should the opportunity arise. Adam Brody also lends a little muscle eye candy to the deputy force. Despite the presence of all the lawmen, it is still Gale Weathers who seems the most capable of figuring out things before it is too late.

The fresh and hip update starts wearing thin in the second half of the movie. You won’t care a bit  about any of the newcomers. They are ultimately undeveloped and disposable, and therein is the problem with the movie. Great pains have been taken to ensure that the film reflects contemporary times, but no attempt has been to humanize any of the new characters.

Thankfully, there are the original cast members. Neve Campbell looks (and acts) exactly the same as she did in the other Scream movies. She still makes that pinched and pained expression that is meant to convey fear. Gale and Dewey have settled into a mundane life of domestication that is rather cute. Watching the three actors feels warm and comfortable.

The film looks good, and Craven ups the gore a bit this time around. As for the ending, the filmmakers are to be commended for commenting on some truths about modern society with their tongue firmly planted in cheek. However, I felt that overall the film was little more than a slick production. Where’s the heart?

Rating 3/5. Scream 4 is rated R.  Written by Kevin Williamson and directed by Wes Craven. Starring Courtney Cox, Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Alison Brie, Nico Tortorella, Marielle Jaffe, Marley Shelton, and Erik Knudsen.


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