Starring: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere
Director: Wes Craven
I know it’s eight months since this film came out, so the identity of the killer(s?) shouldn’t be a spoiler at this point. Then again, this is the internet, and there’s nothing people on the internet like more than blundering into a discussion of something they haven’t seen and then huffing “OMG I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU RUINED THAT PLOT TWIST FOR ME!” (yes, I’m still annoyed about the person who complained about me posting a 24 spoiler in a 24 discussion thread the day after the episode aired on BBC2. Just because you’ve not seen it yet doesn’t make it a spoiler). So with that in mind, here is my disclaimer: I’m going to discuss the end of the film and the identity of the killer(s?). I’m putting it under a cut, and I’m warning you now, but that’s it. Any spoiling from here onwards is your problem, not mine.
So Scream was a satire of slasher movies, starring a cast of genre-savvy kids who’d grown-up watching these films and knew all the rules. Scream 2 was a satire of slasher movie sequels and their general need to up the body count (and apparently their need to have a killer who’d only been in the movie for about 30 seconds before unmasking themselves, HI DEBBIE SALT) and Scream 3 was a satire of franchises that reach a point of creative exhaustion but exist because the studio can still make money out of them. (Okay, fine, I haven’t actually seen Scream 3, but from what people tell me, that point still stands.)
Scream 4, arriving 11 years after the last instalment, leaves itself with a bit of a problem: that the movies within this franchise are now just as much a part of slasher lore as the movies they were satirising, meaning that there’s a good chance of the franchise eating itself. Also, despite being an overall continuation of the story, it sets itself up as to comment on slasher movie franchise reboots – again, a tricky ambition to set for yourself, because there’s not nearly as much material in there, unless the entire point of Scream 3 was for the writing team to paint themselves in lots of corners and this film to hit the reset button and utterly ignore all of those issues. (I hate reboots, as you might have noticed, for precisely that reason. If the studio can hit the reboot button whenever things get too complicated to sort out, why should the writers ever bother considering the consequences of their scripting decisions? Similarly, at what point does the audience just not bother investing in the plots or characters of a franchise, knowing that a reboot is bound to be on the horizon? But I’m rather getting off the point here, and I suspect my reboot rant is something I should save for another blog post. Or for my long-suffering boyfriend.)
Anyway, the survivors of the original movies return (the ever-youthful Neve Campbell as Sidney, Courtney Cox as Gale Weathers – having now had so much surgery that during one scene where she pulls off a Ghostface mask to reveal herself, you wonder why she even bothered with the disguise – and David Arquette as Dewey Riley), alongside some newcomers: Emma Roberts as Sidney’s cousin Jill Roberts, Hayden Panettiere as her friend Kirby, Rory Culkin as Charlie the nerd, Alison Brie as Sidney’s agent, and Adam Brody and Anthony Anderson as comically inept police officers. The newcomers are, regrettably, not all that interesting: only Kirby even comes close to being an engaging character, and that seems more a result of Hayden Panettiere’s natural charisma than any genuine spark in the script.
Of course, this being a Scream film, there are plenty of cameos from familiar TV faces: footage of the film-within-the-film Stab franchise features Aria Montgomery, Annie Wilson, Veronica Mars, Sookie Stackhouse, Cassie Blake and Some Girl Off Friday Night Lights. There’s a lot of fun to be had from these cameos, especially for 90210 viewers (most of us have prayed for Annie to die painfully since about halfway through season one), though there’s a massive internal logic problem within them. The film opens with two girls getting attacked by Ghostface, which is apparently the opening of Stab 6. We then see two girls watching this sequence and having the obligatory discussion about horror movie tropes, only for one of them to kill the other, and for it to be revealed that this is the opening of Stab 7. Fine to wrong-foot the viewers of Scream 4, but how would this work within the film’s universe? Presumably anyone who bothers going to see Stab 7 would already be familiar with Stab 6, so they’d be feeling either cheated or weirded-out at having to sit through the opening a second time. Then again, given the general low-rent nature of the Stab films as perceived within the franchise (one character notes that Stab 5, with “all the time-travel”, was its nadir), it’s best not to think about this too much.
There’s a disappointingly sluggish feel to Scream 4 itself at times. Perhaps it’s because a lot of characters are dispatched before we’ve had much time to care about them, but the deaths of Olivia, or particularly Rebecca, don’t feel especially shocking, just like obligatory plot hurdles we have to overcome in order to get to the reveal of the killer. Sidney has apparently developed super kicking skills over the course of her life, and takes Ghostface out this way at least twice, but also shows a disappointing lack of common sense in many scenes (after seeing her aunt murdered by staying too close to a door with a knife-wielding maniac on the other side of it, Sidney makes this mistake herself quite shortly afterwards, and it’s only by the grace of God that she doesn’t get a particularly violent ear-piercing for her trouble). Perhaps it’s because we’ve seen all this before, or perhaps it’s because there’s not a lot to be said about the genre that hasn’t already been said by the previous three films, but both the genuinely shocking deaths and the biting commentary are pretty thin on the ground this time around.
Disappointingly (well, not for him), my boyfriend managed to guess the killer’s identity halfway through the film. It’s a fairly basic structural flaw: bringing in Sidney’s cousin Jill can only serve two purposes, either to reboot the franchise with a new heroine, or to subvert expectations by having her be the killer. Once you get a fair way through the film and realise that she’s hardly done anything (and has been conspicuously absent for a lot of the movie’s most pivotal scenes), it becomes obvious that she’s the killer. I still had my doubts, although they were mostly in relation to whether Roberts had the chops to pull off such a reveal. (As it turned out, she did.)
If this had been intended as a final instalment in the franchise, the best outcome would’ve been to end the film about fifteen minutes earlier: having seemingly killed Kirby, Trevor, Charlie, Robbie and Sidney, framing Trevor and beaten herself black and blue to paint herself as the sole survivor of the crimes, Jill is dragged out to hospital as photographers snap her and reporters question her and she achieves the fame she craves before slipping out of consciousness. That was a very effective scene, and chilling. Of course, Dimension Films wanted the possibility for a Scream 5, so Sidney is revived in the hospital, and Gale and Dewey spot a slip-up that makes Jill’s guilt (and insanity) apparent, leading to a final climactic battle in an oddly empty hospital and a case of (near-)death by defibrillator, one of the film’s best moments. The film maintains a downbeat ending by closing on the reporters outside the hospital, still hailing Jill as a hero, not knowing the truth of the situation. It’s still a very effective closure – Jill may not have lived to see it, but she still ultimately got the ending she wanted, which is quite an unsettling note to end the film on, and a good deal scarier than most of the actual horror scenes.