The wheels were starting to wobble with “Scream 3” and now they have well and truly fell off with this 2011 film from director Wes Craven (“The Hills Have Eyes”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”) and writer Kevin Williamson (“Scream”, “I Know What You Did Last Summer”, TV’s “Dawson’s Creek” and “The Vampire Diaries”). Craven, once a serious voice in the horror world (albeit an overrated one if you look at recent assignments like “Cursed” and “My Soul to Take”) shows that he has absolutely nothing of any use or relevance to say here. Both he and Williamson prove themselves completely out of their depth and out of their era by continuing the same damn thing in an era where it is no longer relevant. The first two “Scream” films were terrific satires of the slasher movie genre (I don’t consider the series to be much more horror than the “Scary Movie” series of “Scream” parodies were, but most others seem to because they have to operate as slashers first before lampooning their conventions), that seemed to want to force horror filmmakers to change their game, having exposed all the tired clichés. Subsequently a new breed of teen-oriented, often self-aware films followed in the wake of “Scream”. Most were crap, of course, largely due to the lack of humour (not to mention a distinct lack of blood and sex), but there’s no doubt that “Scream” was the forefather of films like “I Know What You Did Like That Time When You Totally Did Something or Whatever, OMG!”, “Valentine”, “Urban Legend”, and all the others that had varying degrees of self-awareness to them.
After the less successful “Scream 3”, however, horror began to change. Horror remakes, Asian horror remakes, and so called ‘torture porn’ flicks have since filled the horror landscape. It’s telling that Williamson takes one brief, feeble jab at the ‘torture porn’ movement in this film. Telling because even ‘torture porn’ has started to wane in the last year or so. If Williamson and Craven really needed to make a “Scream 4”, they should’ve integrated more commentary on the ‘torture porn’ films, because just as the original slasher cycle had already been and gone by the time “Scream” was made (so it could come and ‘reinvent’ the horror genre), the slasher cycle is now at least twice removed, thus “Scream 4” comes across as seriously unnecessary. Yes, the film makes some attempt at taking jabs at horror remakes, but we’re talking about fictional remakes of the fictional horror films that were based on the fictional events in the original “Scream”. Blatantly advertising that this is just a remake of the first film doesn’t make you clever guys, it just makes you dishonest. This is no remake, it’s a retread. And cute meta-movie-with-meta-movie-cubed aside, that’s just not good enough because we’re still talking about generic slashers (albeit slashers with a meta-movie mindset) at the end of the day. The events still play out like a generic slasher film and generic slashers aren’t made as often today. It just isn’t fresh or intelligent. Welcome to the world’s first instantaneous relic. Perhaps that’s some kind of achievement, but it doesn’t make the film terribly interesting to watch.
David Arquette is amusing at times, and Craven gives us a bit more blood than in previous entries, but everything else smells like a schoolbag that’s had a banana squashed in it all year long without being cleaned out. It smells...it smells bad (Believe me, I used to know a guy...) For starters, does Neve Campbell even have a career anymore? Judging by the IMDb, hardly. And that’s one of the problems. When I first saw Campbell here, all I could think was: What does she do for a living these days? Too much time has passed that even Cox and Arquette aren’t married in real life anymore (Unless I’m mixing up my semi-relevant celebrity gossip. Readers?). Maybe these people shouldn’t have been brought back? Maybe the film shouldn’t exist at all? Whilst some newer/fresher faces are sprinkled throughout (Lucy Hale and her adorable-yet-weird tiny head, Anna Paquin, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Erik Knudsen, and “Degrassi” graduate Shenae Grimes) the only one who gets any serious screen time is the mind-bogglingly untalented Emma Roberts (Am I the only one? Her and Scout Taylor-Compton I think are the two worst actresses working today). And even some of those ‘fresh’ faces, are borderline past their use by date if not tipping over (Hayden Panettiere, and in particular, the not-so-long-ago-promising Adam Brody). They’ve even dug up Anthony Anderson, one of the relics of a different horror franchise of the late 90s/early 00s (he was in the second “Urban Legend” film and several of the “Scary Movie” films), for Jebus knows what reason, especially given how less funny he is now he’s not as fat (Take note, Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill).
I usually like a good, tongue-in-cheek horror film (I didn’t even mind “Scream 3”), but this is really underwhelming stuff. Wes and Kevin are just plain out of touch. In addition to the weak-arse jab at ‘torture porn’ flicks, the film just plain gets off to a bad start. If you’re going to have the completely insufferable Kristen Bell (accompanied by the insanely hot Anna Paquin I might add) play the Drew Barrymore-esque role in the film, follow through on it instead of punking the audience out with it being a movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie. Damn I hate that girl. Also, the rationale that slashers are more real than J-horror, monster movies, etc. is just bullshit. Besides, I’ve already established that the “Scream” films (at best) are a mix of horror and comedy, so what fucking point are Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson trying to make? I also have to say that cute or not, the movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie thing isn’t anything especially new and doesn’t even remotely compare to the microwave popcorn opener of the original. And that opener is a good way to bring in a discussion about what ‘scary’ actually is. That opener was pretty scary. But it wasn’t just because it made you jump. It was really, really tense and well-staged leading up to the jump. Most horror films, and this film too, seem to either misunderstand or forget that and just go for the jump without much tension, atmosphere, or build-up. That isn’t scary, it just makes me jump. Making me jump doesn’t make me scared, it just annoys me. It’s a momentary startling, not terror. Even when I know it’s coming, I still jump Why? ‘Coz it’s a loud noise. That’s all.
It would appear that this film represents a passing of the torch from the older generation to the new generation, kinda like when some of the older crowd had roles on “Degrassi: The Next Generation”, but mostly stayed in the background. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that show, now you’ll all think I have no life. Oh you already knew? The problem is, I think it’s too late for the passing of the torch. I will say, however, that Campbell, Cox, and Arquette look to have hardly aged a day since 2000’s “Scream 3”. Two of those people can claim to have good genes, I think. I’ll let you decide who’s who. Mary McDonnell, meanwhile, looks like an 80 year-old burns victim here. Sorry, but I call it as I see it. Besides, it could just be the shit photography, or not enough makeup, who knows? Marley Shelton isn’t bad, but Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen (in addition to the other actors, mostly TV hotties) are no substitute for Jamie Kennedy and Matthew Lillard. Please read that statement again, folks. It’s very telling stuff. I’ve never found Hayden Panettiere hot or a remotely decent actress, and that remains true here, though she’s certainly better than Roberts (even her dad Eric is better). There’s another scene in the film that goes back to the pointlessness of this whole thing. At one point, Panettiere (Is she meant to be gay in this? Seriously butch haircut at any rate) and Roberts are watching and laughing at “Shaun of the Dead”. If this were a real horror film, then there’d be some cute commentary in their laughing at people dying. Unfortunately, “Scream 4” is as much a comedy as “Shaun of the Dead” was. For starters, neither film is actually funny or scary. Oh yes, I did go there. Craven also shows how much he has lost his spark in the ‘I never said your closet’ scene, due to how poorly and obviously it’s set up. Shame on you, Wes. Then again, he also gives us the old parking garage scene, one of the oldest clichés in the book, and I don’t think it was meant to be funny (and it isn’t funny). So perhaps Wes has no shame left. He’s even filming the thing on crap, fuzzy and muddy digital. Lights smudging the lens (look at any scene involving police cars), etc., it’s just ugly, ugly stuff. Wes should know better than that, I don’t care how convenient digital is.
***** SPOILER WARNING ***** The twist ending isn’t as good as it could’ve been. Given what it is, I think it would’ve been better if the film started off with Campbell being killed and moving on from there to truly make it a “Next Generation” film. For starters, having Campbell stick around for so long might tip some people into guessing what function Roberts will ultimately serve in the film. I didn’t pick it, but it didn’t surprise me, either ***** END SPOILER ***** I’d like to say that it’s just this particular film that’s stale (Even series Roger Jackson as ‘The Voice’ sounds like a cheap imitator here. I thought it was actually Craven himself), but that isn’t quite true. Let’s face it, the first two films might be good films, but we’ve all moved on, haven’t we? I don’t care about these returning characters anymore and the new ones I couldn’t care less about. The saddest thing is when you think back to the opening jibe about the ‘torture porn’ films, you realise Wes has nothing to feel superior about. Most of the “Saw” films are terrible, but the first two (especially “Saw II”) are better than this film. Sorry, but this one did nothing for me at all.