BD Review: David Harley Not Amused By ‘Scream 4′

Taking an opposing side to Dimension Films’ Scream 4, David Harley was NOT amused with Wes Craven (interview) and Kevin Williamson’s slasher sequel, in theaters tomorrow.

In fact Harley was so in “meh” about Ghostface’s return to theaters that he gave the film a whopping “this is a film” out of 5. Yikes.

Read below for his full review (or click the title for Mr. Disgusting’s thoughts), and don’t forget to return this weekend to write your own and tell all of BD what YOU thought!
When Scream came out in 1996, it was the shot in the arm horror needed while it was flopping around in a sea of mediocrity. With the tremendous writing talents of Kevin Williamson at his disposal, Wes Craven directed what was possibly the last truly great film of his career, completely tearing down the genre by poking fun at the contrivances that had made horror the butt of many a bad joke. But, if the original played with conventions and used them for comedy and scares, Scream 4 instead mimics them while being smug about being smug. You see, even though Craven and Williamson’s latest collaboration does make some observations about the genre in general, it’s more self-reflexive of the original film than anything.

Like the original trilogy, the formulaic plot of Sidney (Neve Campbell) trying to escape her past with the help of Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale Riley (Courteney Cox), as well as an assorted cast of new faces (i.e. cannon fodder), acts as a springboard for the lampooning so it’s business as usual as the story plays second-fiddle to the banter and familiar characters which we’ve (hopefully) come to love.

The film starts out strong, with a meta opening that mirrors ideas heavily touched upon in Scream 2 and a few fun cameos. Stepping onto a soapbox from which it never really gets down from, it proceeds to lob out complaints about sequels, reboots, “torture porn shit” and little Asian ghosts as it quickly raises the body count before the opening credits roll. If there’s one thing Scream 4 is, it’s violent and gory in an era where many studio horror films are purposely watered down in those departments; in that aspect, it succeeds pretty well.

But it seems as if they played their trump card early, because it takes a big dive afterwards. The bloated second act does the red herring routine, playing up the “everyone’s a suspect” while characters old and new join forces and discuss what the film’s tagline “New Decade, New Rules” really means in order to figure who is behind The Woodsboro Massacre 2.0 (it actually employs technology quite well, though references to Twitter, Facebook and iPhones will undoubtedly date it). Like Scream 3, cameos and an unnecessary large roster of characters are a big issue; seeing Carrie Fisher was great the last time around, but once Jay and Silent Bob show up, you suddenly realize one too many winks might just mean you have a lot of sand in your eye.

As it lurched toward the third act, I felt like the film reached into the audience and slapped me. See, there’s one particular subject that it discusses fairly often – and to be fair, it’s warranted – but there’s a point in the film where I suddenly realized that it wasn’t using it as a mechanism to develop something different off of; Scream 4 actually becomes what it’s trying so desperately not to be. To me, the twist of Craven’s latest isn’t really who the killer is, it’s what the film as a whole actually is. In an attempt to avoid spoilers and all that, try to think of it like this: imagine if Scream made fun of how predictable and uninteresting slasher films were and then once it reached the finale, you realized that it was just another by-the-numbers flick. That is, in essence, what Craven does here.

While it has its fair share of witty dialogue and a few bright spots (Cox and Arquette are still as fun as ever, and Panettiere is well cast), Scream 4 feels like a beleaguered epilogue to a story that should have ended after the second film. The reveal and motive, while relevant to today’s pop culture climate and fairly satisfying overall, could have given birth to a new trilogy, but instead overstays its welcome and leads to a finale which, as one character puts it, should have ended back at the house and I couldn’t agree more – this thing is the Return Of The King of slasher films. Overly concerned with how meta its approach is and how many times the word can be used (characters riff on how meta their lives are the entire time), the highest praise I can give it is that it’s better than Scream 3.

Score: This is a Film/5