Editor's note: Several BOP writers have independently reached the conclusion that Scream 4 is a missed opportunity as a movie. Collectively, we have made the assertion that the film has roughly 15 minutes too many. In order to test our hypothesis, we asked for one of our contributors to watch and review the movie in this manner. We designated the exact moment we believe Scream 4 should cut to the credits and he watched it as if that were the true ending. This review is predicated upon viewing it as such. If you would like to join our writer and take the Scream 4 test yourself, the instructions are at the bottom of the column.
Movie Review: Scream 4 (Short Version)
The First Ninety-Four Minutes and Twelve Seconds of Scream 4
By Tom Douglass
December 13, 2011
* SPOILER ALERT *** - This review discusses key plot details from The First Ninety-Four Minutes and Twelve Seconds of Scream 4. Consider yourself warned.
After an 11 year hiatus, Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson returned to the Scream franchise in 2011 with The First Ninety-Four Minutes and Twelve Seconds of Scream 4 (TFNFMATSOS4), bringing fan favorites Sidney Prescott, Gale Weathers, and Dewey Riley back to Woodsboro for another impossible-to-see-it-coming return of Ghostface and his teen-stabbing ways. TFNFMATSOS4 is a welcome addition to the franchise, giving audiences all the aspects we have come to expect from the Scream films. But what really sets this entry apart is the ending, which opens the door for a new intriguing direction for the franchise.
Seeing how the Scream films have an accepted template at this point, let's tackle this one in order:
Each Scream movie has featured one of its best and most star-studded kills to open the movie, from Drew Barrymore to Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps to Liev Schreiber. TFNFMATSOS4 skews a little more complex and meta than they have historically. An initial kill scene starring Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars) and Shenae Grimes (90210) features some awkwardly cliched dialogue before being revealed as the open from “Stab 6”, being watched by Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell. This scene quickly takes an uncharacteristic turn, with Bell delivering a non-Ghostface knife to Paquin's gut, before this scene is revealed to be the open from “Stab 7”. The pair of teenage girls watching this movie, thankfully, belong to the world of TFNFMATSOS4, and it doesn't take long for Ghostface to shuffle them loose the mortal coil.
The open is interesting in a couple respects. It establishes that the “Stab” franchise has gone almost completely off the rails since we saw these characters last, and offers an opportunity to namecheck more recent trends in horror like torture porn and the “Saw” franchise. The movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie also allows for a solid five stabbings in a short time, so it's fairly action packed, without a lot of “Ghostface gets his knife stuck in a door” or “young girl sweeps the leg and sends Ghostface 15 yards backwards” nonsense. That said, it all feels a little inconsequential due to the amount of stuff they jammed into a short period of time. All in all, when the Scream 4 title hits the screen, I imagine most movie-goers are smiling; it's the kind of murderous fun these movies are known for.
The Big Three:
At this point we are instantly re-introduced to Sidney, Gale, and Dewey. Sid has written a book about her experiences and returned to Woodsboro for the first stop of her book tour. Dewey and Gale are now married, with Dewey now the town sheriff and Gale finding herself adrift after riding the threadbare coattails of the Woodsboro murders all these years. Dewey traces the victim's cell phone to the trunk of Sidney's rental car, and we're off to the races.
Neve Campbell has Sidney Prescott down to a science at this point, and despite not being given all that much to do, she does a competent job with her wearied survivor role. Courteney Cox and David Arquette are more of a mixed bag. Especially towards the beginning of the film, they are delivering caricature versions of Gale and Dewey which, considering they are caricatures to begin with, makes it feel like they are really laying it on thick at times. (Scenes like Gale being a bitch to another media type and then walking away saying “Yep, I've still got it!” are just trying too hard.) As the movie gets rolling, the increasing amount of danger they are in serves to ground the portrayals on more solid footing, and you almost forget about the earlier ham-handedness.
Our main characters/victims/suspects this go-round are generally an appealing group. Emma Roberts plays Sidney's niece, Jill Roberts, a character that becomes infinitely more interesting in the final act (more to come on that shortly). Many of these scenes are carried by best friend Kirby Reed, played wonderfully by Hayden Panettiere, and Erik Knudsen playing a character that should have been named “Okay, fine, we brought Randy back from the dead, sue us”. Rory Culkin also does good work as the sulkier film nerd to Knudsen's Randy 2.0.
Ultimately, since the Scream movies have a predictable plot template and are never going to escalate much in the gore department, it's the characters that need to engage us in the movie, and by and large that works here. You root for the characters with crushes on each other to pair off, and don't really want to see any of the core group at the end of Ghostface's knife. The movie does a good job of teeing up enough entertaining peripheral characters to fill out the body count (hello, Alison Brie, Mary McDonnell, Adam Brody, and Anthony Anderson), while giving the audience just enough time to invest in the main characters before...
The Final Act:
This is by far the most interesting and best part of the movie, and the final 15 minutes are among the strongest moments of the franchise. The teenagers take refuge from the preceding madness at Kirby's house, and it isn't long before Ghostface arrives for the final throwdown. Rory Culkin finds himself tied to a chair outside the house exactly like the original Scream, but Kirby seems to pass the quiz this time, running outside to untie Rory only to have him stab her in the gut, berating her for ignoring him all these years. Once back inside, his co-conspirator is revealed to be Jill, to Sidney's shock and disgust. Jill states her motive to be an attempt to frame her ex-boyfriend and become every bit the famous victim that Sidney is for her own profit.
But at this point, it gets really interesting. Jill betrays the young Culkin, killing him and setting him up for the fall. She then turns her blade on Sidney herself, accomplishing the murder that so many Ghostfaces had failed to do through four installments. Jill then proceeds to elaborately cover her tracks, by impaling her own shoulder on the knife and leaving it near another teenager, then (in one of the best shots of the entire movie) running full throttle face first into a glass picture on the wall and then throwing herself through a glass table. She then curls up next to Sidney in a mirror image of her recently deceased aunt as the sirens approach from outside.
This is a fantastic ending, and gives the franchise a welcome shot in the arm. We move from the now-tired “who is Ghostface?” mystery to an era where one of the killers has finally survived the bloodshed. Would Jill proceed from here to put the mask back on and take down a sequel full of victims in Scream 5? Would Sheriff Dewey and Gale be able to link a new string of killings to the events in TFNFMATSOS4, and bumble their way towards capturing the girl who escaped justice? These are far more interesting questions than anything a Scream audience has carried into a theater before, and kudos to Craven and Williamson for knowing they needed to mix up the formula a bit this time out.
TFNFMATSOS4 isn't a perfect film, but it's a fun time throughout that greatly exceeds the expectations set by a boring third film and decade-long hiatus. More importantly, it should make audiences demand a Scream 5. Considering that TFNFMATSOS4 seemed to be an unnecessary cash grab, that's an impressive feat. Giving you most of what you expected and hoped for, and a couple welcome surprises, TFNFMATSOS4 successfully brings back the fun of '90s horror for a welcome and enjoyable evening at the movies.
Editor's note: If you would like to take the Scream 4 test, here is what you need to do. When the movie is at 94 minutes and 12 seconds, a significant shot of two people on the floor should be onscreen. Turn the film off at that point and consider it over. Determine how impressed you are by this conclusion. Later, go back and watch the final 15 minutes or so and decide which ending you want the movie to have. We at BOP have chosen the shorter version. Drop us a note and tell us whether you agree or disagree.