Return of “Scre4m” Muffled

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Courtesy of Dimension Films

“What’s your favorite scary movie?” To hear these words being uttered by that familiar raspy, taunting voice in this era is a trip down memory lane for horror and slasher flick enthusiasts who hold the “Scream” franchise dearly close to their hearts. Over 11 years have passed since the last film’s release, but that hasn’t stopped Ghostface from sharpening his knives once more for “Scre4m.”

With horror maestro Wes Craven at the helm and series creator Kevin Williamson as writer (though “Scream 3” writer Ehren Kruger came in during production to rework the script), the latest installment in the immensely popular franchise not only boasts the return of beloved trio Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette, but also promises — in the face of a new decade — new rules, new faces and just as many laughs and screams as before. However, “Scre4m” ultimately feels like nothing more than a rehash of the first film.

Sidney Prescott (Campbell), now a successful author, returns to Woodsboro — on the 15th anniversary of the murders, no less — to promote her latest book. Unfortunately, her homecoming proves to be far beyond welcome, as it prompts a series of murders committed by none other than the infamous Ghostface.

Reunited with the bumbling Sheriff Dewey (Arquette) and the snooping Gale Weathers (Cox), who are now married, Sidney soon finds herself in danger once again, though she’s not the only person who is under Ghostface’s malicious eye. He also has his knives set on Sydney’s teenage cousin Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts) and her group of friends, and this time is very much determined to leave no survivors.

One task that Craven and Williamson faced was to distinguish the look and feel of “Scre4m” from those of its predecessors in order to keep it fresh, especially since an entire decade has passed since “Scream 3.” They accomplish this by reflecting the modern age, particularly the growth of communication technology. With that being said, we see the characters making use of smartphones, referencing the Internet, and one guy even has a camera attached to his head that uploads the footage to a streaming Web site which documents his life. Some may opine that the film continually whacks us over the head with this theme, but it’s effective.

What makes the “Scream” films stand apart from any other slasher movie is that their characters possess a vast knowledge of, if not a passion for, horror films. This very trait has classified the films as black comedies and is exemplified by open conversations about the conventions of the genre and the rules that are established. “Scre4m” is no exception, and here, the characters chat about how there is no character development in horror movies, how being gay guarantees survival and how unlucky cops are. While some of these attempts at humor fall flat, most succeed in coaxing laughter.

Despite a lively opening and a thought-provoking ending which mirrors that of “Training Day” and serves as a fascinating social commentary, the film doesn’t provide a fresh and original experience because it seems as if the creators simply recycled the first “Scream.” In fact, when you compare the plot structures of that and “Scre4m,” there aren’t that many differences at all. What makes it worse is that the film is apparently a bit keen on increasing the body count as soon as possible and in the bloodiest way imaginable, and it’s not very difficult to determine which of the characters will have an appointment with Ghostface.

The most disappointing absence in “Scre4m” is heart and soul, and in this case, we’re talking about the criminally limited screentime of Sidney, Gale and Dewey. Like them or not, they are arguably the most integral elements of the “Scream” franchise, and their interactions with one another provide the films with an extra dimension and personality; this is why they are so cherished by those who love the series. Here, they barely talk to each other one on one, and while we get glimpses of their lives after almost 10 years, we don’t fully get the very sense of how they’ve been doing.

Many will suggest that Craven and Williamson are preparing a new era of “Scream” films (a trilogy is reportedly planned), and thus wish to move the series forward with new faces. That’s understandable, but what’s the point if we don’t give a rat’s ass — or specifically, aren’t given enough development or time to care — about the majority of the characters who are introduced? Even the revelation concerning Ghostface’s identity – which, by the way, isn’t hard to conclude because there is one noticeable dead giveaway – isn’t entirely convincing and lacks the emotional thump it needs.

Considering that Campbell, Cox and Arquette have played the same characters in three films already, it’s easy for them to slip back into their roles and remind us why we love them so much in the first place, though Campbell often has too little to do. The rest of the cast spend most of their time trying to either be likable and funny or make an impact, but there are some gems. Alison Brie as Sidney’s aggressive publicist and Hayden Panettiere, who plays probably the hottest film nerd ever portrayed onscreen, manage to bring an extra depth to their characters and are a joy to watch.

There’s no doubt that Craven is an adept filmmaker when it comes to building up tension and creating an uneasy atmosphere, and he certainly does his job with the film, though it isn’t as gripping as the other “Scream” films — possibly due to the privation of an extended chase sequence.

The film’s overall look is sleek and rather refined, and Peter Deming’s cinematography bears fruit to fantastic lighting and several impressive camera angles. Film composer Marco Beltrami, who has provided the score for the series, returns with nifty, nerve-wracking music that always seems to barrel towards a climax.

“Scre4m” makes its debut with some very mixed results. It has adapted well to the new modern era, features many of the franchise’s key trademarks, has a few fascinating things to say and is pretty entertaining, but those who have grown up watching the other three films will be disgruntled by the film’s unoriginal story and the underused trio of Campbell, Cox and Arquette. As a result, there is a lack of heart and soul that the film desperately needs.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

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