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If you ever get an invite to become Sidney Prescott's Facebook friend, think long and hard before accepting. Nothing against her, mind you. I'm sure she'd keep her FarmVille solicitations to a minimum. It's just that pretty much everyone she knows winds up getting perforated.
Sidney attracts serial killers like most of us attract credit card offers. Lunch dates with Sidney become not so much a matter of who's going to leave the tip as who's going to survive the cutlery. She doesn't lose friends to petty misunderstandings. She loses them to blood loss.
It's been that way for Sidney for a very long time. First it was all her high school chums (Scream). Then her college friends started coughing up proverbial daisies (Scream 2). Even slipping into isolation for Scream 3 didn't help—and that time the killer turned out to be Sidney's own half brother.
But Sidney's last run-in with "Ghostface"—the character/guise all of her assailants have taken—was 11 years ago, and things seem to be looking up. No longer, presumably, does she greet every doorbell-ringing girl scout with a panicked shriek and a shotgun. No longer does she hide under the bed at the sound of her phone. She's written a book now, one that preaches a message of empowerment. And after a long, long absence, she's returning to her hometown of Woodsboro to shake some hands and sign some dust covers—just in time for the anniversary of Woodsboro's first massacre.
Would it be an understatement to call that a bad idea?
Perhaps feeling a little nostalgic, another Ghostface decides to take a stab at a new legacy—the deadliest, bloodiest yet. This Ghostface seems determined to kill not just everyone Sidney knows, but everyone walking within a certain radius of her—including pretty much the entire population of Woodsboro High. And then, as a grand finale, Ghostface is determined to take down Sidney herself, thus ending any chance of another sequel.
Yeah, like Ghostface hasn't tried that before.
You gotta hand it to Sidney: The woman has more resilience than a Super Ball. Despite rivers of blood, piles of corpses and a dizzying number of flesh wounds, Scream's queen remains remarkably well-adjusted throughout all her cinematic travails, and she soldiers on through her latest massacre with level-headed aplomb. Most of us would be looking for lifetime reservations in a padded room had we been through all Sidney's endured. Not her. She's still brave, sensible and as determined as ever to survive to the credits—even as she shows a willingness to put herself in harm's way to save those around her.
We see a high school girl walk around in very revealing underwear. Other characters wear formfitting or skin-baring outfits. A girl ogles the shirtless torso of her "Facebook stalker." Someone is supposedly targeted by Ghostface because of her ample physical attributes.
A deputy appears to have a crush on Sheriff Dewey, making googly eyes at the married man and baking him treats. "You're not cheating on your wife if you're eating my lemon squares," she says.
"Making moves," "getting lucky" and "getting laid" are part and parcel of the dialogue. Jill, one of Woodsboro's many imperiled high schoolers, confronts an old boyfriend in the hall—angry that she fell for him and gave him "everything," only to have him break up with her. "That's not letting go," she says. "That's betrayal."
We're told that the only surefire way to survive a modern-day slasher flick is to be gay … but a gay character finds that rule to be more myth than magic.
Recently, slate.com tried to calculate just how many body bags would be needed for Scream 4, using a complicated algebraic formula based on the thriller genre's forebears. Factoring in such elements as the number of installments (the fourth), whether the title has a colon (no) and whether Rob Zombie is directing (no), Slate predicted that 11 folks would be dead by the credits.
Turns out, the formula failed by only one bag. Twelve are needed by night's end. And it feels even worse than that. Some people who seem to die wind up surviving. Others who appear to be dead weren't real people at all (using Scream's film within a film conceit). But really, when a movie gushes enough gory goo to flood a school bus, does the final body count really matter much?
Unlike some of its more "inventive" slasher brethren, Scream 4's onscreen deaths don't differ much from victim to victim. While a couple are shot (one suffering a painful and grotesque bullet hole in the groin before the coup de grace to the head), most are stabbed with Ghostface's ever-shiny (digitally rendered, so as to seem even more vicious) knife. Only the location of impact differs markedly. Some are skewered in the back (dark blood gushing out of their mouths), while others get it from the front (blood pooling in their hands as they try to stopper the wound). The blade pierces one unfortunate victim's forehead, and crimson pours down his face as he staggers in the street. Another has her throat sliced open. Still another jerks on a kitchen floor as he gushes out his last. Several are stabbed multiple times before finally succumbing to Ghostface's lethal advances—one girl left in her blood-streaked bedroom, her entrails piled beside her.
Several characters suffer from electrical shocks and blows to the head with blunt instruments. One woman harms herself: She scratches her own face, pulls out her hair and slams herself into a wall and a glass coffee table. Another has her spine crushed underneath a garage door. A couple of kids are restrained with duct tape. Somebody gets kicked, repeatedly. Somebody else struggles with Ghostface, then tumbles off a ledge.
Ghostface is kicked and punched, and once gets an arm slammed in a door. Ghostface makes several graphic threats to intended victims. A corpse is thrown off a roof, landing on a news truck below. On television we see a bloody scene (from Shawn of the Dead) featuring a grotesque zombie getting impaled.
Crude or Profane Language
More than 40 uses of the f-word and nearly 20 of the s-word—not counting what might be said in the film's profane soundtrack. Characters also say "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑" and "douche." God's name is abused at least a dozen times (once paired with "d‑‑n"), and Jesus' is abused twice. Obscene finger gestures are made.
Drug and Alcohol Content
High schoolers gather for a slasher flick marathon, using it as something of an excuse to participate in a drinking game. Walking into the movie-fest, a girl calls another on her cell and says, "You do your good-girl thing and I will drink for the both of us."
After the party breaks up, some of the kids wind up at an after-party. A girl makes a pass at a guy, confessing that she's drunk. A guy slams back a shot of whiskey before staggering outside with the bottle in his hand.
Other Negative Elements
Two teens bond over horror movies. Several characters trade insults.
The Scream films, from their inception, have been a strange mash-up of comedy and horror, over-the-top violence and cut-to-the-quick satire. They're self-aware slashers that simultaneously mock and pay homage to the genre of which they're a part.
Scream 4 (stylized as SCRE4M) is, per the genre's rules, bloodier than anything that came before. It simultaneously offers surprisingly cogent commentary on our ultra-wired, fame-obsessed society.
Ghostface doesn't just kill: Ghostface kills for the camera, planning to upload the murders to the Internet. This killer isn't out for revenge: This one wants fame, and explicitly tells Sidney as much. Jealous of all the fawning attention Sidney's received over the years, the murderer behind the mask opts to outdo the death-dodging heroine, hoping to snuff her out—along with half the town of Woodsboro. The goal? A strange, twisted form of immortality.
"Sick is the new sane," Ghostface says.
And when Sidney stands aghast that so many of the killer's supposed friends were among the victims, Ghostface is unmoved.
"I don't need friends. I need fans."
We live in an age when some will do almost anything for a taste of fame—from having their lives recorded 24/7 in a New Jersey beach house to pretending to send up their 6-year-old son in an experimental balloon. Scream 4 forcefully skewers that celebrity fixation—and it wonders aloud what the endgame might be: Could someone crave fame so much they'd kill for it?
We know they could. We've seen it already.
In 2007, 19-year-old Robert Hawkins walked into a mall in Omaha, Neb., and opened fire, killing nine people. "Now I'll be famous," he allegedly wrote the day before. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who killed 15 at Columbine High School in Colorado, hoped to leave the world with a lasting impression too. And several mass murderers have mailed, essentially, press packages to the media shortly before they committed their crimes, banking on getting a post-spree (posthumous if necessary) bump of celebrity. The quest for fame isn't a central objective in most real-life killings, but the desire for notoriety appears to play at least a supporting role in some.
So the film's satire seems to be on point. But that won't be the one I leave you with here. And that's because Scream 4 leaves me feeling queasy—and not entirely because of all the fake blood. While it tweaks our culture's messed-up values, it counts on those same values to turn it into a blockbuster.
Scream 4 laughs not just at our culture but at its audience—weirdly chiding fans for their love of blood, for their fascination with fear while dousing them with buckets of it and terrorizing them to boot. Onscreen, drunken high schoolers laugh their way through a screening of the movie within a movie Stab while a real assault takes place nearby, unnoticed. As a slasher buff bleeds her life out onto the pavement, her killer informs her, "It doesn't happen as fast as it does in the movies."
When Sheriff Dewey finds scores of Ghostface masks festooning downtown Woodsboro—put up by prank-happy kids—he sighs as he prepares to take them down.
"One generation's tragedy is another one's joke," he says.
But is director Wes Craven ignoring the irony of what he's doing … turning tragedy into a joke? Because this latest massacre takes place in fictional Woodsboro—far removed from our real-life Columbine or Omaha—that's supposed to make it OK. But why? Why is it acceptable for 8-year-olds to dress up like Ghostface on Halloween, but not Dylan Klebold? How can we cry over a massacre in Brazil or the Netherlands, then laugh when we watch someone get stabbed in the head on a movie screen?
Scream 4 wonders why, too. But it doesn't much care to change the answer. This is a line our culture has drawn for itself, and it points the way to another blockbuster payday in a world where Technicolor gore equals a big box office gross. And the makers of this movie are more than happy to keep playing along.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott; Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers-Riley; David Arquette as Dewey Riley; Emma Roberts as Jill Roberts; Hayden Panettiere as Kirby Reed; Erik Knudsen as Robbie Mercer; Rory Culkin as Charlie Walker; Nico Tortorella as Trevor Sheldon; Roger Jackson as The Voice of Ghostface
April 15, 2011
October 4, 2011