Scream 4: Wes Craven Horror

Scream 4, the fourth installment to the series that began on a high note 15 years ago, is a major disappointment.

Despite the fact that the original creators, writer Kevin Williamson and vet horror maestro Wes Craven, are involved, this chapter seldom finds the right balance between scares and laughs, telling a story and at the same time commenting on it—and on its genre—between reflexivity and self-reflexivity.

Returning to the franchise after a decade, Wes Craven employs the same directorial  choices and visual devices that he did back then, including pacing and style, as if not much has happened in Hollywood cinema since 2000, when “Scream 3” was released.  The absnece from the screen has not been particularly good for Craven; his batteries have not been charged, to put it mildly.  And it should be pointed out, that when Craven deviated from his fave genre, by making “Music of the Heart,” a sentimenal biopic starring Meryl Streep, he fell flat on his face.

Among many faults, this tale has too many characters for its own good, only two or three of which are properly developed to generate any interest and to merit the word characterization.

For a horror flick, this installment has at least a dozen speaking parts, played by vet as well as new actors.  The ensemble includes Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox-Arquette, David Arquette, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, Mary McDonnell, Marley Shelton, Nico Tortorella, Marielle Jaffe, Kristen Bell, Anna Paquin, Lucy Hale, Shanae Grimes, Aimee Teegarden and Brittany Robertson.

In moments, “Scream 4” feels like a class reunion of the participants of the former episodes, brought together for an event that lacks a distinct goal, a unified vision, a sense of fun.

“Scream 4″  goes out of its way to be up to the moment.  Indeed, in its desperate effort to appeal to younger viewers, who were not even born when the first Scream came out, the movie relies on the new technologies, cell phones, webcams, etc.  But they feel like external gimmicks, because they are integrated into the yarn in a satisfying or even funcional way; it’s like paying lips service to the new technologies and new media.

The only things left are a high degree of self-awareness and a handsomely looking flick, with nice production values, sort of a polished package.

In spirit and ideas, “Scream 4” bears the strongest resemblance to the first installment (in moments it feels like a direct sequel to it), rather than a continuation of where “Scream 3” ended.

In this version, Neve Campell’s Sidney Prescott, now the author of a self-help book, returns home to Woodsboro on the last stop of her book tour, having published her memoirs as a survivor.

Upon her arrival, Sidney reconnects with Sheriff Dewey and Gale, who are now married, as well as her cousin Jill (played by Emma Roberts) and her Aunt Kate (Mary McDonnell).

Unfortunately, Sidney’s return also brings about the return of Ghostface.  Soon, Sidney, Gale, and Dewey, along with Jill, her friends–and practically the whole town of Woodsboro—are put in a state of perpetual fear  and danger.

I wish I had my stop-watch to time and present in greater detail the calculated aspects of the narrative, the timing of the murders, the rate at which the student body of Woodboro High School begins to dwindle, all done by the book and by the numbers (literally, because the body count is higher than the norm).

Context is everything: In 1996, when “Scream” was released, it was fresh, representing a new type of horror movie.  As a result of its critical acclaim and commercial success, a whole new cycle of horror flicks came out.  For a while, the horror genre, which always goes in cycles, was reinvented and rejuvenated.  But over the past 15 years, the market has been flooded with horror items, good and bad.

A tweener, the fourth installment is neither fresh nor savvy, neither bright nor witty, neither frightening nor entertaining.  Too satisfied with itself, “Scream 4” is self-reflexive and self-referential to a fault.  Looked upon with a sober eye, this fourth installment is deja vu.  It gives the core fans (wo are now young middle-age) more of the same, but for anyone else, the movie is quite a long and tedious experience.

For the record: Scream was released in 1996, Scream 2 in 1999, and Scream 3 in 2000.