Scream 4 (2011)
By: Julian on April 20, 2011  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Poster Art
Director: Wes Craven
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Marielle Jaffe, Rory Culkin, Erik Knudsen
Screenplay: Kevin Williamson
Country: USA
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It has been fifteen years since Wes Craven unleashed Scream, a hip, self-referential masterpiece that polarised horror fans but introduced the genre to a new group. It breathed life back into the slasher film and ushered in a new era for American horror: it was the best commercial American horror film of the nineties, even though some genre puritans treat Scream fans as Philistines. Craven went on to direct two sequels that centred on the legacy of the Woodsboro murders: in those films, released in 1997 and 2000 respectively, Sidney Prescott, survivor of the Ghostface killings in Scream, had to dodge psychopathic copycat killers at every turn, all the while the prolific Stab films (a film franchise within a film franchise) were immortalising the whole thing. Eleven years following the second, lacklustre sequel comes this film, with Craven, screenwriter Kevin Williamson and stars Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette returning to the fold. It is a far better film than Scream's 2 and 3, sharp, clever, gory, light-as-a-feather entertainment.

The Stab films are, thankfully, no longer the focus (though a very amusing, star-studded pre-credits sequence tells us that the fictitious franchise is up to Part 7): on the fifteenth anniversary of the massacre, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns to Woodsboro to launch her autobiography-cum-self-help tome. Sidney stays with her aunt and her cousin Jill (Emma Roberts), whose life parallels Sidney's own: Jill's cheating ex (Nico Tortorella) is striving for her affection as she hangs around her clique of trendy, horror-loving sophisticates (Hayden Panettiere and Marielle Jaffe) and avoids the psychopathic Ghostface, who is stalking her and her friends, with Sidney the ultimate target. Charlie (Rory Culkin) and Robbie (Erik Knudsen) head the film club at Woodsboro High, and their zest for the horror film conventions, now influenced by the remake glut, makes them this generation's Randy Meeks.

Craven had two options for Scream 4 (stylised as the über-trendy Scre4m on the poster art): either appeal to the original fans of Scream, or appeal to the young horror-loving demographic that was snared by Scream, which in 2011 means a whole new audience. Whatever approach Craven opted for would require alienating a pretty large body of either group. The director gunned for the latter: this is a movie starring teens, with the same teens talking about their brand of modern horror (and while waxing lyrical on the Saw sequels and Final Destination is a bit sickening, they still hang up posters of The Hills Have Eyes (Craven's, of course) and speak fondly of Suspiria and Don't Look Now). It's hard to deny that while Scream 4 is likely to enjoy a more limited fan base than Scream does now, both films were squarely aimed at young people.

While self-awareness and modernity is part of the Scream franchise's shtick, Scream 4 takes it to the nth degree, with Facebooking, tweeting, Sheriff Dewey Riley (Arquette) haplessly being caught by the trappings of the Internet as his reporter wife Gail Weathers (Cox) cannily uses them to her advantage. In 2011, Ghostface is recording the murders via state-of-the-art webcam, and there is an iPhone app available that allows users to replicate Ghostface's voice (thankfully, Roger L Jackson is back on board with the voice acting: Craven says that Jackson's "evil sophistication" is instrumental). Of course, all of this potentially alienates the original's fans as it strives to appeal to the same age group that adored Scream – teenagers and twenty-somethings. With that group now into their late thirties and early forties, all of the social network technobabble run the risk of either being grating or falling flat. But it's wrong to condemn Scream 4 for this: it is, after all, the whole point of it.

Craven should be credited for staying in step with his target audience (as ridiculous as some may find the proposition, an iPhone app Ghostface synthesiser is probably quite likely), but he tends to go overboard with it, not least the trendy modern horror references. But this all depends on the horror fans that are the stars of the show: one can criticise Craven for filming his characters as they fawn over Shaun of the Dead – but the same director fifteen years ago showed kids of the same age doing the same thing over Halloween, and knowingly drawling gags like, "what is this, I Spit on your Garage?" The same gimmicks would seem out of place with 20-year-olds in 2011. The point is, although he tends to overplay his hand, criticising what Craven has done here with his horror-savvy teens would be hypocritical if the same criticisms weren't levelled at what Craven did in 1996 with his horror-savvy teens. Disgruntled Scream fans beware: you are not the intended audience for this film.

However, that is not to say that fans of the original (at least, those who aren't disgruntled) can't get something out of this. For one, it is an extremely violent horror film – far more violent than the previous three. But it's not just a senseless bloodbath: seeing where the original core characters are at (and Sidney, Dewey and Gail are the stars of the show, they don't just appear fleetingly) after the last fateful Stab wrap is rewarding. The performances are top-notch all around, with some terrific cameos and supporting performances: Anna Paquin and Marley Shelton in particular shine, and both evoke some pretty decent chuckles. Craven's direction is tight and compelling throughout: those who reckon that Craven gets lucky about once a decade ignore the terrific visual sleight of hand and storytelling abilities that the man has. This certainly fits in the top half of his canon (but, before the Philistine charge is wheeled out again, still under House, Elm, Hills and Scream '96).

Those entering Scream 4 should be under no illusion about what the film actually is: it is a horror teen movie just as the first was, though the core appeal of this is geared towards the young people of 2011, not the young people of 1996. Those who criticise it for being exactly that are missing the point. Free of the burdensome distractions of the films-within-a-film, Scream 4 shares the original's spirit closer than either of the earlier sequels, with Craven running a gleefully gory and high-spirited exercise in suspense and laughs. Recommended.
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