I’m calling it, folks: Wes Craven is washed up. The man is done. He’s past it. I think we were all beginning to suspect as much after My Soul to Take, but tonight’s film has to be the final nail in the coffin (if you’ll pardon the expression). Oh yeah, Scream 4 really is that bad. And no, I am not calling it “Scre4m.”
The primary failing of this film can be summed up in two words: “No love.” The first Scream movie was great because it combined parody and satire with sincere affection, but there’s none of that here. The satire about celebrity worship and internet culture is very sharp, but it isn’t funny so much as it’s just mean. Far more importantly, the references, in-jokes and parodies of more recent horror films (“torture porn,” mockumentaries, etc.) are slim to non-existent. Any commentary on the subject comes down to two statements: 1) that there aren’t any rules anymore, and 2) “you don’t fuck with the original.” Yes, that is a direct quotation. By the film’s own explicit admission, there are no rules to make fun of and there is no love for the thing being made fun of, which knocks out two of this franchise’s central pillars! That might be excusable if this latest entry adapted with the times and made some new comic material out of it, but no such attempt is ever made.
Furthermore, part of what made the original Scream so great is that it was a funny and scary film in its own right. Though it does have a few laugh-worthy moments here and there, this latest film is not scary. Not remotely. It’s made plain as day which characters are going to get killed off and every scare is telegraphed far in advance. The only genuine surprises come when we learned whodunit and why, but that big revelation didn’t shock or scare me so much as it made me angry.
I mean, it made me livid. Furious. I can’t possibly describe just how much the final reveal pissed me off, because that would mean spoiling the movie, which I am duty-bound not to do. Instead, I’ll only say that when a film’s stated objective is to phase out the old cast and bring in some new characters to carry the franchise further, the one thing any knucklehead would not do would be to render the best 90 percent of the new characters totally invalid!
Oh, and the new blood in this film is really darn good. Allison Brie plays her character with spunk, humor and charm. Rory Culkin is a lot of snarky fun to watch. Hayden Panettiere is weak in places, but she still has the sass and sex appeal to make her character work when it counts and she can do “terrified” pretty darn well. Yet easily the best of the bunch is Emma Roberts (one of my celebrity crushes, I confess), who plays a worthy successor to the franchise’s leading lady role. All of the franchise’s newcomers are wonderful to watch, which makes it all the more shameful that most of them — nearly all of them! — won’t be in the sequel. Perhaps the worst waste of talent goes to Mary Frakking McDonnell, given three worthless minutes of screentime loaded with impossibly bland dialogue before she’s killed off. That was an Oscar-winning actress, ladies and gentlemen.
The film’s maltreatment of its fresh talent is made even more baffling by the fact that its old talent doesn’t give a damn anymore. The only returning actor who’s giving 100 percent is Roger Jackson, who’s still voicing Ghostface with a deliciously sinister joy. Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courtney Cox, on the other hand, are all clearly slumming it. Hell, the only time when Campbell seemed like she was putting in any effort was in a particularly moving scene when she seems to pass the torch unto Emma Roberts. And really, that should serve as further evidence that Campbell and her cohorts all need another Scream movie like they need a drug scandal and they know it. These actors are all way, way past their primes, yet the franchise seems to insist on keeping them past the point of usefulness.
Oh, that’s another thing I should mention about the characters: They’re worthless. Not just the returning characters, but the new ones, too. They all make inexplicably stupid decisions on a regular basis and Arquette’s character (who’s the town sheriff, remember) proves that he quite literally couldn’t shoot the broad side of a barn. The original Scream would have joked about this, claiming that it’s all part of the typical horror film, but not in this movie. In this movie, it’s just pathetic and only serves to lessen the horror.
Scream 4 is a big middle finger. It’s a middle finger to both generations of the cast, it’s a middle finger to the fans of the franchise and perhaps most importantly, it’s a middle finger to post-Millennial horror films. This film is a failure of such magnitude that I can only conclude Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven were attempting to fail on purpose. It’s like they were trying to make a commentary about reboots and continuations of old horror franchises that add nothing to the legacy and only serve to piss off the fanbase, yet they had nothing clever to say about it, so they simply became what they beheld.
I heard their message loud and clear, and I pass it along to you, dear reader: Watch the original Scream films, but don’t waste your time on this movie.