Directed by Wes Craven
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
It may be a new decade, but the rules haven’t changed all that much. That’s not to imply that Scream 4 doesn’t tackle certain modern-day genre issues with all the sharpness of Ghostface’s blade, but it’s hard to come away from Wes Craven’s fourth entry in the ongoing slasher series without feeling like the film should’ve gone a bit further.
After all, the groundwork is here. From a killer ‘remaking’ the events of the original and deliberately tweaking the formula along the way to an increased sense of brutality throughout his body count. Here’s a madman honed on the modern genre – so much so that his entire repertoire is comprised of mainstays that have come to define the last decade of horror filmmaking (for a Scream film, the kills are quite bloody). That the story isn’t quite as fresh as it once was is part of the point this time around, as so perfectly surmised in an opening scene that acknowledges the challenge of one-upping the now famous opening death scene from Scream while scrutinizing the glut of Saw/Hostel-style films that surfaced in the wake of this then slasher trilogy.
But Kevin Williamson’s script isn’t all hip dialogue and clever movie references. One of the most inspired aspects of Scream 4 is its derisive approach toward today’s youth. When our killer’s motivation is revealed, it’s less about a believable motivation and more of an exaggerated take on today’s headlines. 2011 is a time in which teenagers live their lives on social media, blog their high school experiences and, in some instances, vie desperately for fifteen minutes of fame. Shortly after Scream 4 hit theaters, there was a news headline about a young girl who got knocked up specifically so she could audition for MTV’s “16 and Pregnant”. With that in mind, this climax feels relevant, particularly biting and spot-on.
Any good slasher movie needs a healthy dose of atmosphere to succeed, and Scream 4 is no exception. Jettisoning the cold and alien Hollywood-based setting of the dismal third film, the fourth installment returns to Woodsboro, California, and Craven (along with DP Peter Deming) makes the most of this ‘Anytown USA’ setting, creating a community fraught with the memory of the fifteen-year-old bloodbath. The adults want to forget about it and move on while the kids romanticize the details. They’ve also allowed a series of endless “Stab” sequels to dilute their connection to the past, interpreting these events not as real-life murders but as the events in a sleazy string of slasher movies instead. It’s not an unfortunate event to them as much as it’s a joke.
Keeping with the theme of one-upping the original, Scream 4 boasts a much larger body count. And Craven brings his deft touch to Ghostface’s attacks, staging some particularly suspenseful setpieces for our resident slasher. Of particular highlight is the Rear Window-ish moment where some misdirection results in two girls watching helplessly as their friend is brutally killed across the street. There’s also the atmospheric trouncing of a smarmy literary assistant (Allison Brie) in a conveniently desolate parking garage and a playful stalk-and-slash bit with Gale Weathers set against the backdrop of a “Stab-a-Thon” movie festival. Frustratingly enough, the film blows one of its nastiest and most unsettling moments (in which an unlucky cop is stabbed in the brain) by delivering a horrendous one-liner involving Bruce Willis. Assuming we have Ehren Kruger and his 11th hour “re-write” to thank for that howler.
If there’s something that doesn’t work here, it’s the sort of over-sized cast load that leaves nearly every role feeling somewhat half-baked. Scream 4 is torn between devoting screen time to the ‘old guard’ of Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox and the ‘new blood’ consisting of Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere (who steals every scene she’s in), Rory Culkin, Nico Tortorella and Erik Knudsen. The end result offers a healthy dose of likable characters and good performances, but it’s trying so hard to be a sequel and a remake that the end result leaves everyone a bit underused (the deleted scenes rectify this a bit, and I would’ve relished an extended cut in addition to the theatrical presentation).
Scream 4 also features a tacked-on hospital-based finale that wreaks of studio interference. The rumor is that Williamson’s original story involved the killer getting away scot-free, which would then be a lead-in for a Scream 5. It’s unclear as to why this wasn’t utilized, considering a bleaker, more nihilistic ending would’ve been the perfect capper to a movie that clearly has some disdain for today’s youth. But the current finale feels somewhat unsatisfying – especially when the road leading to it was so much fun. As it stands, it works in a certain slasher movie way, but the hospital dénouement requires the viewer to suspend a considerable amount of logic (How was the killer planning on escaping? Or even pinning the murders on someone else?) in order to swallow it. Thankfully the movie ends on a delightfully cynical note regardless, which goes a way toward making up for the sluggish final fight.
Scream 4 dials its way onto Blu-ray, and the transfer is nothing short of stunning. This 1080p disc is a real eye-popper in the way it effortlessly handles black levels and shadow detail. No crush whatsoever, which is wonderful considering this film’s reliance on darkness. The image retains so much detail, even in the blackest scenes, that this might look better than either time I saw the film screened theatrically. Details excel throughout the transfer, day or night, ranging from the obvious face/hair textures to stellar detail on rug fibers and foliage. Skin tones look great, and colors pop off the screen. Rest assured, there’s no digital chicanery amiss here … this is a gorgeous, reference-quality disc.
Audio-wise, this is a strong 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. There’s a lot of elements to handle throughout Scream 4, from dialogue to music to sound FX, etc., and this lossless track works them all with aplomb. But it doesn’t quite satisfy as much as it does on the video front. The music is potent, but it’s lacking a little ‘pop’ to bring it fully to life. The most obvious example being over the film’s title card – set to “Something to Die For” by The Sounds. In the theater this was the focal point of the title card, but it’s buried beneath the sound FX on this home video mix. Still, dialogue remains pitch-perfect and Ghostface’s knife stabs sound really nasty. It’s an excellent track, even if I wouldn’t give it a perfect score to match the PQ.
The extras are lots of fun for fans of this one. First up is a really solid audio commentary with director Wes Craven and stars Emma Roberts and Hayden Panettiere. Neve Campbell dials into the call for about 45 minutes in the middle, and the four participants have a relaxed, yet interesting discussion. Beyond that lie 26 minutes of deleted/extended scenes, and while there’s a clunker here and there, I wish we would’ve been given an extended version of Scream 4 as the majority of these would’ve fleshed out all the characters a bit more. In addition to that is the nasty aftermath of the opening murder scene – really nice to finally see that one! A nine-minute gag reel is very funny stuff and the ten-minute ‘making of’ is worth a look, if nothing special. Lastly, there’s a video game promotion (and this game remains unavailable on my Droid X, boo!). You also get a DVD and digital copy here, too.
Scream 4 is a lot of fun, and its story, while flawed, is well orchestrated and with plenty to say (not only about horror films, but about society in general). It arrives on Blu-ray with incredible PQ and very solid AQ. The extras may not be a deal-breaker for those on the fence about this purchase, but the deleted scenes and audio commentary are more than worthwhile for any Scream fan. It’s a solid film, one that’ll likely nab a spot on my ten best of the year. A slasher movie with a message, it comes from me as recommended.
4 out of 5
3 out of 5