Scream 4 (2011)
Written by Kevin Williamson
Directed by Wes Craven
Scream 3 seemed to put the lid on this horror franchise, and that was the case for eleven years. In 2008, The Weinstein Company announced Scream 4 was in pre-production. Wes Craven would be returning at age 71 to direct. This would be his final film. In 2010, Kevin Williamson confirmed he would return to the series after having too much on his plate for 2000’s Scream 3. As part of the backstory to the world, Craven shared that Ghostface murders had gone completely extinct in the eleven years between these movies. The Stab film franchise in-universe kept making movies, but Sidney Prescott was able to move on with her life. It seemed like a new chapter was beginning for all the familiar characters as new ones were introduced to take their places.
On the week of the 15th anniversary of the Woodsboro Murders, two teen girls are murdered. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) shows up in town the next day as part of her memoir promotions alongside agent Rebecca Walters (Allison Brie). The local law, led by Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and his deputy Judy (Marley Shelton), have to put Sidney on the list of suspects after potential evidence is found in her car. Meanwhile, Sidney stays with her aunt Kate (Mary McDonnell) and niece Jill (Emma Roberts). Jill is dealing with her boyfriend’s cheating while getting moral support from her friends Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) and Olivia. Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) is married to Dewey now and struggling with her jealousy towards Judy and writer’s block. Like always, the bodies begin piling up, and our three core cast members start trying to suss out who has adopted the mask and knife of Ghostface this time.
The biggest change between Scream 3 and 4 in our culture had to be the advent of social media. Smartphones were fairly new in 2011, but people had been using social media for a little under a decade (MySpace, Friendster, Facebook, et al.). This Ghostface wants to become internet famous, a phenomenon born out of social media’s prevalence and trend cycling. It’s a pretty great conceit for a Scream movie which has also positioned itself as a commentary on violence, youth, and media. The Columbine shootings had placed a pallor over Scream 3’s production, but this film isn’t afraid to explore the connections. Spoilers to follow, so be warned!
One of the downfalls of the Scream films is that the most interesting part of many of these movies is always the scene where the killers are revealed. Unfortunately, these come at the end of the second act, and the third just zooms by, so we never get to spend much time in the space of that revelation. The killer is revealed this time to be Jill, Sidney’s cousin and film nerd Charlie (Rory Culkin), who has an unrequited crush on Jill. Jill explains to Sidney that she’s had to grow up in the same town where her cousin’s shadow looms so large. No one pays attention to the girl as much as she wants, so Jill figures by becoming the new Ghostface and killing Sidney, she will attain a level of fame that is far higher. She’ll frame Charlie as the sole killer and become the new Sidney, a survivor who fought against all odds.
Williamson does such a clever thing by ending the movie in a moment of dissonance. Jill is at the hospital and is seen by the public as the survivor. Jill learns Sidney is also alive and on life support at the same hospital, so she slides out of her bed and goes to finish off this loose thread. Dewey, Gale, and Judy all play a part in killing Jill and saving Sidney. The movie ends with a pan down to the media gathered in front of the hospital, extolling the bravery of Jill and how she is such an excellent model for the community.
Williamson is clearly commenting on the way American media misses the point at every instance that there is some murderous tragedy that strikes a community. It may be in how they blame all the wrong things (movies, video games, comics) or fail to understand/communicate the context of what happened. They are merely selling commercials, so they sensationalize things. This is also reflected in the vulture-like stance of Sidney’s agent, who wants to use the current murders for marketing the book with complete disregard for the victims. Jill gets what she wants technically; it’s just happening while she’s dead.
Scream 4 is not up to the same standards as the first film but is vastly improved over the third movie. Bringing Williamson back on board helps with the meta-commentary that made the first two such fun flicks to watch. I can’t recall hearing any mentions of Roman and the revelation from Scream 3, and that’s a good thing, the quicker that film is forgotten, the better. It would take another decade before the latest Scream movie was released, which will be the topic of our next & last review.