[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS NO SPOILERS!!] Welcome back to the town of Woodsboro where people are very self-referential, very good looking and skinny, and very prone to getting stabbed and gutted. It’s been over a decade since SCREAM 3 (2000) and the killer GhostFace stalked the theaters but director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson thought it was time to reunite to give us the “SCREAM” treatment on remakes. SCREAM 4 brings back some familiar faces from the franchise as well as giving us some new faces (the “newest” face belonging to Mary McDonnell. Seriously; she looks like Joan Rivers). I’ll tell you right now that this review will not be a comparison to the original trilogy but will be a review of SCREAM 4 as a standalone film. If you’re like me you really don’t care if SCREAM 4 is better than the previous SCREAMs … you only care if it’s a good, scary movie in itself. Well is it?
The basic plot here is that Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell in her recurring role) has returned home to Woodsboro on a promotional tour for her self-help/tell-all book “Out of Darkness.” In her book Sidney describes her journey from being a victim to regaining control of her life and coming “out of the darkness.” Her publicist Rebecca (Alison Brie) thought it’d be a great publicity stunt for her to return to the place where it all started. But as soon as Sidney gets into town the ever threatening GhostFace appears and starts slaughtering teens. Let me just get this small criticism out of the way (and note that this is one of my pet peeves about films). All the “teens” here are once again played by twenty-something’s. Why do all these films insist on being set in high school? The actors are obviously in their twenties; why not just write the plot to take place on a college campus instead of high school? Oh well.
The inept Deputy Dewey (David Arquette) from the original trilogy is now the inept sheriff, tasked with tracking down the killer. Dewey is married to ex-reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), now Gale Weathers-Riley, who has abandoned the news van and microphone for the life of a writer, but willingly jumps back into her “investigative journalist” role as soon as the murders start. After a really fun opening that both spoofs the opening from the original SCREAM while at the same time going beyond it, we meet the main “teens”. There’s Jill (Emma Roberts), Sidney Prescott’s cousin; her two pals Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) and Olivia (Marielle Jaffe); Trevor (Nico Tortorella), Jill’s ex-boyfriend; Film Geek (Justin Brandt), who films everything and uploads it live to his constantly streaming webcam show; and Charlie (Rory Culkin), another film geek. As we’re introduced to the main cast we’re also thrown a lot of red herrings (A LOT of red herrings) where writer Williamson makes everyone seem like a suspect as the newly reincarnated GhostFace.
I really enjoyed the first half of SCREAM 4; I enjoyed it a lot. The dialogue was crisp and clever, the acting was solid, and Craven crafted some really suspenseful and gory scenes … definitely Craven’s best directing in a really long time (but I still won’t forgive him for giving us the absolutely craptastic MY SOUL TO TAKE). This GhostFace is more vicious, violent, and sadistic than previous incarnations. The brutality of GhostFace’s kills will make you flinch and you’ll be amazed at GhostFace’s strength and agility. I was really pleasantly surprised with the first half and enjoyed the hell out of it!!
And then we get to the second half of the film. Simply put the second half of SCREAM 4 completely falls apart. Completely. It feels as though the first half of the film was classic SCREAM, written by Kevin Williamson, while the second half of the film feels as though they brought in a different writer. The clever dialogue and suspenseful, well-crafted scenes were gone. The second half of SCREAM 4 becomes filled with characters spouting off terrible one-liners (mostly while getting butchered) and ends with a terrible “big reveal” that is pretty damn insulting and lame. The turning point in this film was the big “underground” party where the two film geeks are screening all seven “Stab” films (the films that were inspired by Gale’s books). Just a side note: This is supposed to be an underground party that only a few select people know about, but when we get to the party it’s in a huge barn with music playing loud enough to wake the dead and the words “underground party” spray painted on the front of the barn in large enough letters to be seen from space!! But I digress … after this big party scene, which was pretty suspenseful and intense, the film turns a corner and utterly crashes in on itself.
By this point in the film there’s already been a ton of brutal and violent murders yet no one seems to be all that disturbed by them. Everyone just goes about their business as if everything is normal and there’s not a brutal killer on the loose. The film makes an interesting point when referring to the murders in the first SCREAM about how “one generation’s tragedy is the next one’s joke.” Tragedies, over the years, do indeed become less horrifying as time passes. But the vicious murders are happening right now!! Why does no one seem to be concerned about that? And then the writer (I certainly hope it wasn’t Kevin Williamson) starts having the characters spouting off the dumbest one-liners; lines so utterly stupid that Freddy Krueger himself would wince. The scene with the two cops in the patrol car (you know the one; they’re showing it in the trailer) was so goddamn stupid I actually moaned out loud, eliciting some laughs from the moviegoers around me. The two cops are talking about how it sucks to be a cop in movies “unless you’re Bruce Willis,” when GhostFace attacks them. After being horribly stabbed (I mean HORRIBLY stabbed) the cop’s final words before dying are, “F**k Bruce Willis.” Seriously?!?? Unfortunately this was just the beginning of some really stupid lines like this.
So what happens in the second half that goes so wrong? Mainly the humor. The humor in the first half was both well written and well placed so that it never interfered with the horror elements. But in the second half the humor, the bad humor, is so poorly placed and heaped into every scene that all the suspense and tension built up in the first half is completely erased. In doing a little research on SCREAM 4 I discovered that my suspicions were indeed correct: The making of the film wasn’t a very enjoyable experience by either the cast or crew and Williamson wasn’t really happy with the final product. It seems that the good old Weinstein brothers brought in another writer, Ehren Krueger (writer of SCREAM 3), to do some rewrites on the script. Which parts were re-written, I’m not sure but I’d have to guess the second half/ending of the film was fucked around with.
The second half just gets lazy and it feels that whoever wrote it uses the gimmick of the characters knowing they’re in a horror movie as an excuse to not give us anything new and simply give us the same old horror trappings found in hundreds of horror flicks before this one. I won’t go any deeper into the ending because I don’t wanna give away who GhostFace is, but I was pretty unsatisfied with the “big reveal.” If you’re paying attention you’ll figure out the ending about half way through, and I won’t mention how Craven and Williamson try to throw us off track by making the figure of GhostFace about six foot-two, but when the killer is revealed they really stand about five foot-five. Oops; looks like I did mention that.
There’s also an ending after the ending in the hospital that gets really friggin’ ridiculous. All I’ll say is that one of the characters is horribly stabbed and in the ICU (although they aren’t hooked up to any monitors or wires). But they’re able to get up and fight even though they take a lot of kicks and punches to the wound. The killer also has the other cast members trapped at gun point and all everyone does is make witty, sarcastic little comments. I just don’t understand this decision; those “humorous” comments completely killed what could have been a really intense ending.
SCREAM 4 is a mixed bag. It starts off running out of the gates and is hugely entertaining. But at the half-way mark everything just falls apart. The dialogue, action, and overall writing plummet to the depths of “ridiculousness.” If you’re a fan of the SCREAM franchise then you’ll enjoy SCREAM 4, but there’s gonna be that rational part of your brain wincing at the second half, wondering how a movie that starts off so damn good can end so goddamn bad. Overall I enjoyed SCREAM 4 and recommend it … just watch out for the second half.
Director: Wes Craven
Plot: 3.5 out of 5 (for 1st half); 1 out of 5 (for 2nd half)
Gore: 4.5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer