“Scream 4”, also known as “Scre4m”, knows its genre well enough to prove its superiority over the dumb horror films it proudly mocks, but it doesn’t come close to matching the quality of some of the great horror films it celebrates. Considering the franchise’s satirical nature, the past decade has provided director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson with much material to work with. The movie succeeds when it sticks to the self-aware antics that it’s known for. Too bad this sequel often abandons this clever concept for ideas we’ve all grown familiar with.
Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), one of the survivors of the first three “Scream” films, has returned to Woodsboro to promote her new book. She unwisely decides to visit her hometown near the anniversary of the first Ghostface massacre. Since it was death anniversaries and her surprise visits that triggered the massacres, you would think Sidney would keep a safe distance from Woodsboro, but no worries. Upon news that a new Ghostface has started a killing spree, Sidney re-unites with fellow survivors, Dewey and Gale, who are now married. The mature age of the three has granted them a major advantage over the new generation of students. We all know that, in horror movies, adults have a lower mortality rate than teenagers.
The best thing about this franchise is that it occupies a world that acknowledges the existence of horror movies and the people who are obsessed with them. Almost every horror flick made in the past 30-40 years takes place in a different time and universe where there are no horror movies that could serve as a lifeline to its young characters. As a result, teenagers would always commit the same mistakes that would get them killed, or raped, or eaten. For example, when a victim is chased in her house, she would immediately run up the stairs instead of going out the back door, trapping herself and assuring her own death. The characters in the original “Scream” were fun because it was populated by smart, informed teenagers who ended up dead because of a smarter, better-informed villain.
The new characters in “Scre4m” have devolved in the sense that even though they have memorized the formulas of the genre, they can no longer apply it to earn a more worthy death, if you get what I’m saying. As the movie drew longer, we begin to ask ourselves on when these horror geeks lost their clutch of the situation by wandering off alone too many times and running up on too many stairs. Despite losing some of its strengths, “Scre4m” is still a good movie by standards of recent slasher films, but it fails when criticized by the standard set by the original “Scream”. And since this is the fourth installment, we might find the irony in how some parts of movie have become guilty of what its predecessors were trying to scold. Has the sequels created its own tiresome formula?
Most of the movie’s faults and missteps occur in the middle and concluding stages. The opening sequence is a masterful stroke of bloody brilliance, both reliving the frightening method of Ghostface while, at the same time, engaging in humorous discussions regarding the dishonorable horror trends of the past decade. It reminds us of the recent birth of Torture Porn and its immediate overuse. It bluntly shows its disapproval of remakes, and it rebukes “new clichés” that has been made possible by the advance in technology. When was the last time a teenager tried to get a signal on his/her cell phone and lived long enough to see the next sunrise?
“Scre4m” could have kept going on this path. It could have been consistently smart, and entertaining, and insightful, but no. It decided to save some of the good stuff for more sequels. What was initially a clever satire that once revived the genre it loved has betrayed itself by agreeing to participate in dishonorable mass production for the purpose of a few extra paychecks. Disappointing. How long can they keep this up? “Scr5am”, “S6ream”, “Sc7eam”, etc.