Starring Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Britt Robertson, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Nico Tortorella, Mary McDonnell, Alison Brie, Anthony Anderson, Aimee Teegarden, Marielle Jaffe, Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Shenae Grimes, and Lucy Hale.
Directed by Wes Craven
Like death and taxes, Scream 4 was always inevitable. Wes Craven’s self-referential, horror-reviving slasher “trilogy” raked in so much dough that it’s a shock Dimension Films waited over ten years before running back to their golden goose. Thankfully, the return of not only Craven but original screenwriter Kevin Williamson and the surviving cast elevates this one beyond the typical cash-in sequel. And while Scream 4 doesn’t re-invent the wheel, it’s far more entertaining than anything Craven has done since … well, Scream 2.
Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) has seen some shit. Thanks to the whorishness of her mother, several psychopathic Ghostface killers have murdered more people than Charles Bronson in what is undoubtedly the most elaborate web of revenge ever concocted. Over a decade later, Sid is enjoying her celebrity status with a popular tell-all book about surviving three consecutive bloodbaths, and the last stop of her book tour is her hometown of Woodsboro, where the murders in the first film took place. But no sooner does she reconnect with fellow survivors Dewey (Arquette) and Gale (Cox) than a whole new string of copycat murders pop up among the new generation of high schoolers. The motive: to “remake” the killings that put this backwoods town on the map.
Taking center stage (instead of the glorified cameo she had in Scream 3), Campbell makes a welcome return to her character and manages to re-invent the “final girl” slasher heroine as a tough-as-nails survivor who is more inclined to run at the killer than away from him. The supporting cast of fresh-faced Woodsboro High teenagers (who actually LOOK like teenagers for once) all handle their own and largely manage to avoid the annoying CW hipster types we’ve come to expect in these kind of films.
Every single actor gets at least one great moment, but the disappointment is that the chemistry among Campbell, Arquette and Cox – arguably the heart of this franchise – is seriously lacking this go-around. It doesn’t help that Dewey and Gale have been scaled back to the roles they had in the original, which means they mostly play second fiddle to the new cast.
In a way, this installment offers a very depressing commentary on horror since the last decade is only known for endless recycling and sequels. From its subversive opening sequence, it’s obvious that Kevin Williamson has all the ammunition he needs to lampoon the horror genre all over again – including the self-referential flicks he popularized – and he does it well. Despite the production’s well reported problems and numerous re-writes, Williamson’s voice is all over this film, and Scream 4 finds far more clever ways of poking fun of itself than any of those unfunny Scary Movie spoofs. The drawback is that this time the humor works better and sometimes against the suspense of the picture.
Keeping up with the times, Scream 4 is also the darkest of the series with kills that are prolonged and far more brutal (when you think about what Craven had to cut from the original Scream to satisfy the MPAA back in 1996, it all feels pretty absurd since the bloodiest scenes in the first film don’t even match the tamest moments here). And while I loathe the remake trend and am glad to see Craven and Williamson disembowel it, this also comes as a double-edged sword (and a little odd, considering Craven himself has been largely behind the trend). The remake motif means that everything in Scream 4 hearkens back to the first movie so it’s constantly living in its shadow of the original. As a result, the film doesn’t feel particularly fresh … just late to the party.
That’s not to say that Craven and company do a bad job, but the limitations of the slasher genre definitely show. There are only so many ways Ghostface can call someone up before popping in for the kill, and no matter how many meta jokes and obscure movie references they throw in, there’s still that sense we’re running the gauntlet yet again.
All these flaws aside, there’s plenty to like about Craven’s return to Woodsboro. At the very least, it’s a far better series capper than the limp Scream 3 and further keeps the franchise out of direct-to-video hell. I have no doubt that Scream will eventually top the fictional Stab franchise with its amount of sequels, but there’s really not much left to say after this one. As it stands, Scream 4 works far better as a satirical black comedy than it does when it strives for actual horror.
3 out of 5