Scream 4 (2011, Wes Craven)

Oh, no, Scream 4 is Wes Craven’s last movie. At multiple times throughout, I remember thinking, “at least this isn’t Wes Craven’s last movie.” Not sure what I thought his last movie would have been, but I didn’t really think it would be this mess of a too-late sequel. Though I guess I’m curious if the story is what franchise “creator” and writer Kevin Williamson had in mind for the original Scream 3before he got fired, and they went with something else. Craven, however, returned. But if Scream 4 is what 3 was supposed to be a decade earlier… maybe there wouldn’t have had to be a Scream 4?

The movie’s first act is an object lesson in the dangers of recurring cast horror franchises, before the lumpy second act where the film pretends it might have something to say about itself. The third act reveals it very much does not have anything to say about itself, though if they’d just written for the finish instead of the reveals, they may have had something. Not a movie Craven could’ve directed, or Williamson could’ve written, but someones else maybe. Because even though Scream 4 is ostensibly about franchise stars Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courteney Cox getting older and wiser… they’re none of those things. Scream 4 ages worse than the original trilogy because Craven and Williamson haven’t learned anything. They’re ironically referencing tropes, like girls in lingerie and terrible performances from suspicious boyfriends, but it’s not like they’ve also learned how to be funny about it.

For the first half of the movie, it appears Craven is directing now-sheriff Arquette and his obsessive sidekick, Marley Shelton like they’re in a comedy. The music’s not for a comedy, the editing’s not for a comedy, but if Arquette and Shelton aren’t going for absurdist stupid cop comedy…

Because what else can you do with it? The movie opens with multiple false starts to mess with the audience; sadly, none of them improve the main action. The main action keeps churning along until they get to the third act and can do the big killer reveal. Only the movie’s spent the last hour and fifteen minutes reminding why there’s no reason to care about a Scream movie. It’s all about Craven and Williamson being, well, craven.

The movie’s also profoundly unsuccessful with its attempts to modernize, not even leaning into streaming video as well as the Halloween movie with Busta Rhymes, even though it’s years later, the tech’s better, and everyone has iPhones. Though Williamson’s script seems to misunderstand how people use smartphones, which might explain why no one knows how to text except the character with the Sidekick. They also don’t know how to be scared of mass murderers out to get them, as every character who’s in direct danger does absurdly dangerous things just to get some pop scares. Craven tries to do a pop scare every thirty seconds through the first act, seemingly to wear out the trope. So he can use a different but similar trope later. Though is it better when he tries tropes for the suspense sequences, instead of just creating so much empty headspace one can muse whether or not they should’ve hired someone better at suspense for these movies.

Or with actors.

The best performances in Scream 4 are Hayden Panettiere, Adam Brody, and Mary McDonnell. Brody and McDonnell are barely in it, which works to their advantage. They don’t have characters, just bit parts. Getting to the end of your bit part well is a gift in Scream 4. Someone, usually Williamson, not Craven, will ruin it for you. Panettiere’s “reboot” lead Emma Roberts’s cool friend. Panettiere’s not so much good as not bad and more able to guide her performance than Craven. Roberts lets Craven direct her. It doesn’t go well. Roberts’s part is too small given she’s the lead, with the time instead going to Cox, Arquette, and Campbell. The original trio is just in the story because the movie doesn’t trust Roberts, Panettiere, and their friends. More, no one wants to see another Scream movie without some forced nostalgia going on.

There aren’t actually too many terrible performances. They’re usually unsuccessful or pointless. Cox, Arquette, Campbell, they’ve all got pointless performances. They don’t have anything to accomplish, so not doing so doesn’t affect them.

The worst performance is Nico Tortorella, but it’s not his fault. He’s being written as Luke Wilson making fun of Skeet Ulrich but broody. Tortorella didn’t have a chance with the script or the direction.

He’s one of the new teens, along with Roberts, Patteniere, Rory Culkin, Erik Knudsen, and Marielle Jaffe. Hopefully, most of them reconsidered their agents after this movie.

Scream 4 isn’t as bad as it could have been. It might not even be the worst in the series (though it doesn’t encourage a rewatch to find out). The third act has its moments. Unfortunately, it’s also got a lot of bad, cheap, craven (pun intended) moments. But there’s occasional potential. With better direction, with a much better script. It’s an unfortunate but possibly accurate capstone to Craven’s career.

Also, Marco Beltrami’s scoring has managed to get worse. I kept wishing 4 had his overcooked music, and then it turns out it does, and he’s just lost his enthusiasm. Much like everyone else involved. Scream 4: I Mean, You’re the One Watching It, What Are You Going to Watch Next, Die Hard 7?

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