***originally written 19 April 2011***
“…after the imaginative contraption-killings of the Saw septology, watching multiple knife murders, however ironically intended, is about as thrilling as standing in line at the butcher’s”. So says the Empire review of Scre4m, the latest, kind-of-surprising-that-it’s-actually-here edition to Wes Craven’s franchise. What Empire conveniently forgot to mention, but Scre4m takes pains to remind the audience – twice – is that the Saw franchise sucks.
They’re also wrong. When played right, when played well, the idea of some masked stranger running at you with a sharp knife is scary. As ironic, as post-modern, as witty as the original Scream was, there were times when it was genuinely thrilling and uncomfortable. And yes, the same can be said to different degrees about Scream 2 and Scream 3 too. Knives are sharp and when wielded by the psychotic, they’re horrible. And so it is in Scre4m. I don’t care how elaborate Jigsaw is, Ghostface’s Scooby-Doo villainy is far more morbidly engaging.
But is it worth it, this time? This was a dead franchise. And as much as anything and everything has been or is being rebooted, resurrecting Scream seemed the least necessary. Where was there left to go, really? Well, the answer seems to be back to the beginning, back to Woodsboro. Core trio Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette are all back, along with original writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven, but also here to add the threat of a new franchise into the mix are the fresher-faced likes of Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin and Emma Roberts. Following the obligatory double-bluff opening sequence (with the equally obligatory quota of bloodloss) the movie slows down in order to re-establish our old favourites and lay down development for our newbies. It is the inevitable evil of a continuing series of movies that you have to take time to catch the audience up. As a result, the first hour is pretty aimless, sometimes turgid. But there’s another purpose here. Without realising it, Williamson and Craven have both reminded you of why you liked these characters and given you enough reason to be interested in the new ones.
It also gives the audience time to get settled into part of the main fun of a Scream movie; playing whodunnit. Could it be publicist Allison Brie (nearly unrecognisable from her role on Mad Men)? How about perky deputy Marley Shelton? One of the newbies? Hell, what if Ghostface is one of the former heroes? Credit where credit’s due, all four movies have been very good at leading the audience along in this regard. Williamson and Craven know how savvy their audience is, and play up to this with great effect.
Williamson makes much of the opportunity to comment on how craven (no-pun intended) the YouTube generation has become in the past decade. His point is unnervingly proved by the BBFC. The last three movies were all 18s. Scre4m is at least as bloody as any of it’s predecessors, but is on the market as a 15.
If Scre4m suffers in comparison to it’s predecessors, it’s in the lack of major set pieces. 2 had Randy’s very public death and the brilliantly suspenseful cop-car sequence. 3 had the crazy mansion free-for-all. 4… doesn’t really have a standout like those. The deaths are not especially inspired – that’s not the point of Scream – but when one character in particular dies purely to provide a punchline, it feels cheap. In it’s favour however is a reveal and subsequent third act that feels the most queasily horrific since the first film. It is in this late phase that the aforementioned newcomers shine, and Campbell is given more to do than she has in fifteen years.
After such a long hiatus, it’s tempting to show a very polarised opinion either for or against this installment. A return to form or the final nail in the coffin? The truth is, however, that Scre4m is at least as good as the other two sequels and not as good as the now-classic original. It’s about par. It isn’t re-writing the rules, but it’s a cut above much of your other standard Hollywood horror fare these days. It’ll suck you in if you let it. It’s fun, half-serious horror entertainment. Far more entertaining than Saw‘s tiresome torture porn.