After more than 10 years since the last Scream flick, Ghostface has tooled up again and is ready for another round. Scream 4 returns to the hunting grounds of Woodsboro to find Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) back in town as part of her book promotion tour, having penned a bestseller about her bloody experiences. Fellow survivor Dewey Riley (David Arquette) is now the local sheriff, and his journo-turned-wife Gail Weathers-Riley (Courtney Cox) has settled into a life of small town drudgery. But Sid's homecoming brings a new wave of terror, centred around her toothsome young cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and her assorted high school friends who are all existing Scream archetypes, e.g. the sassy pal, the strange boyfriend, the movie-obsessed classmates etc. Cue lots of jokes at the expense of other horror movies - including Scream 4's predecessors - and plenty of chopped-up teens.
Wes Craven directs once again, and original Scream scribe Kevin Williamson also tags along, although Scream 3's writer Ehren Kruger is rumoured to have given Williamson's script more than a little bit of massaging. Craven cooks up some amusing kills along with the usual array of spookily-lit red herrings, and while the plotting isn't any more convoluted than the other Scream outings it's just so hard to care about most of these characters. The big reveal of the killer(s) doesn't come as a surprise at all, and the whole show is undermined by the disinterested script and ineffective performances. This film was supposed to kick off the Scream franchise anew, but its abject failure at the box-office has probably buried the series once and for all.
It lacks the spark and vitality which drives the other films, partly because we're right back in Woodsboro watching the same old schtick again. At least the previous sequels tried to put an alternate spin on the story by taking us to different locales. And while the writing of these movies has always been laced with 'post modern' insights, Scream 4 is so achingly self-conscious that we're not given a chance to absorb one Łber-meta remark before the next one comes along. The knowing humour is laid on so thickly that it kills any sense of tension or danger, highlighted by the opening-within-an-opening-within-an-opening scene, which quickly wore out my patience and set the tone for the rest of the movie. The maligned Scream 3 is guilty of this humour overload too, yet it doesn't seem quite so forced in that case. And the third movie is still scary when it needs to be, but Scream 4 just keeps on ploughing ahead with the 'wink-wink-aren't-we-clever' dialogue. This film doesn't just break the fourth wall, it demolishes it, and instead of being smart it simply comes across as smart-arsed.
The writing concentrates so much on the in-jokes that the characters get short shrift, and outside of the familiar Sid/Gail/Dewey triangle there's no-one for us to root for. While accusations of thin characterisation could be levelled at any of the previous movies, at least they had performers who were charismatic enough to fill in the gaps. This new lot of 'kids' are vapid, blank-faced goons who are there to tick boxes. They're not very tall either, and - I know how utterly irrational this sounds - that aspect weirded me out. It's like watching Scream remade with hobbits. Perhaps they casted short so as not to upstage the tiny Hayden Panettiere, whose pocket-rocket performance as Kirby, Jill's friend, is the one bright spark amongst the identikit Hollywood younglings on display.
There are a few other suspects thrown in to make up the numbers, like Sid's pushy publicist (Alison Brie) and Dewey's doe-eyed deputy (Marley Shelton) but they're both played so kookily I just couldn't take them seriously. And the great Mary McDonnell's role as Sidney's aunt barely qualifies as a cameo. The Scream regulars are phoning it in but they're still a cut above the new cast members (puns intended). Neve Campbell seems to be getting better with age, while the reverse is true for Courtney Cox. Her immobile fish-lipped face is scary in and of itself. David Arquette is Dewey Riley.
What annoys me the most is the way that this film retreads the original; it hits so many of the same beats that it just doesn't have any sense of identity. Is it supposed to be a sequel? Remake? Reboot? All of the above? It's a tough enough job to pull off a remake dressed as a sequel, and when it works it goes over like gangbusters (see: Terminator 2, Evil Dead 2). But Scream 4 is such a dismal misfire because it commits the cardinal sin of bringing nothing new to the table, and the over-reliance on referential humour takes a once-welcome gag and wears it very thin indeed.
Scream 4's lasting legacy will surely be that Scream 3 is no longer known as 'the crap one'.
Craven has tried to stay true to the series' roots by shooting Scream 4 in anamorphic a.k.a. Panavision, resulting in this AVC-encoded 2.35:1 widescreen presentation. But right off the bat you'll notice how hazy it looks; even though the movie was finished on a Digital Intermediate it has none of the apparent sharpness of other DI shows. This is not due to any fault with the encoding however, because the movie was shot using filtration to give it a gauzy, dreamy look. Said filter also creates big, blooming lens flares around light sources in darker scenes, and lots of streaking during indoor shots which have a strong backlight. Even the hotter parts of bright daylit shots tend to bloom and look a little over-exposed.
Director of Photography Peter Deming also shot Scream 2 and 3, and I've read comments (including some from Craven himself) about how this movie fits right in with the others in terms of the look, but I call bullshit. Yes, it's shot anamorphic but apart from that it looks nothing like the other movies, not only for its diffused appearance but because the colour features the typically modern palette of teal and orange. The usual DI tropes of blue-green night shots and perma-tanned skin tones are in full effect. That said, the colour isn't as gaudily saturated as other DI movies I could mention, although it's had a knock-on effect in that the blood is disappointingly dark-hued, looking more like chocolate syrup at times. It worked for Hitchcock, but it just looks lame here. No wonder this only got a '15' rating.
Detail is generally strong, and certainly takes no prisoners when it comes to the close-ups of the older ladies in the cast. The image looks very flat though, thanks to the double header of anamorphic's slight softness combined with that ugly-ass filter. The murky interiors - of which there are many - provide a stern test in terms of blacks and shadow detail, and the encode holds up very well indeed. The lighting is cunningly used to hide certain characters in the gloom at certain points, and we only see them when we're meant to see them. No overt blocking or banding to report, nor is there any edge enhancement. A few white specks appear every now and then. There's a very light layer of grain which can occasionally devolve into outright noise.
I've begrudgingly given this encode an 8 out of 10 because it appears to be true to the filmmaker's intentions, but this is not a good looking film by any stretch of the imagination.
The audio, represented here by a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 encode, does at least stay true to its heritage. There are noisy, jolting scares, Marco Beltrami's familiar-sounding score, and lots and lots of screams all mixed together nicely, utilising the whole sound stage. The rears get regular usage for spot effects and general ambience, and while the LFE underpins the major shocks it isn't a constant presence. Dialogue occasionally comes through as a bit mumbly, but at the other end of the scale all those blood-curdling shrieks are just as piercing as you may expect. Nothing groundbreaking then, but certainly effective.
All I can find on my review copy (which appears to be the retail version and is not a check disc) is a trailer, which contains plenty of snippets that didn't end up in the movie. It's the nearest thing we're gonna get to a deleted scenes section on the UK version, but the US disc is slated to include a commentary, deleted scenes, a gag reel and more.
There are also four forced trailers at the start of the disc for the following: Lord Of The Rings:EE Blu-ray, London Boulevard, The New Daughter and Blood Creek.
If this is indeed the end, then Scream 4 is a sad way for this franchise to bow out. It's a dull, filmmaking-by-numbers rehash of the first movie, and - irony alert! - is every bit as useless as the endless cycle of horror sequels & remakes which it parodies so scathingly. The Blu-ray provides a good representation of what the film should look and sound like, just don't expect any demo material.
The lack of extras is very disappointing, but it wouldn't surprise me if Dimension (through EiV) wanted to get this turkey onto shelves outside of the US with the minimum of fuss and expense. Unless you're a complete Scream fanatic this film is best avoided, and if you must have it then you're better off waiting for the extras-laden US version due October 4th.