It’s been a quiet eleven years for Sidney Prescott, who has managed to go a full decade without having a masked killer terrorize her and systematically kill her friends. But that’s all about to change, as Scream 4 introduces the latest incarnation of the killer nicknamed Ghostface back into Sidney’s life and into theaters.
The original Scream was one of those perfect little films, combining a killer (excuse the pun) script from then-newcomer Kevin Williamson, with the proven scary movie talents of Wes Craven. It was funny, it was scary and it contained a well-done murder mystery. The first sequel, Scream 2, while not as strong as the original, was still very enjoyable, though unfortunately, Scream 3 left a lot to be desired. But with so much time since the last installment, has bringing Craven, Williamson and the original cast back managed to revitalize the franchise? Happily, the answer is yes.
In a series known for having big opening scenes, Scream 4 announces its arrival with a rather brilliantly-conceived sequence, which I don’t want to give away the details of. Suffice to say, it works on multiple levels and immediately promises that this series is going to continue having postmodern fun with not just horror movie cliches, but what are its own cliches at this point.
No shock, but that sequence ends in murder, just as Sidney (Neve Campbell) is returning to her home town of Woodsboro. Sidney is winding up a book tour, having written a memoir about all she has survived. But with new victims turning up, Sidney is quickly reunited with the now-married Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Dewey Riley (David Arquette), as the trio once more try to figure out who is behind these murders and why they’re doing it.
While Sidney is (once again) a target, so is her young cousin, Jill (Emma Roberts), a current student at Sidney’s old high school from the first film. History begins to repeat itself, as Jill and her friends are stalked by the killer, who has a whole new collection of movie trivia questions with which to taunt intended victims.
Scream 4 has a bit of a balancing act it needs to navigate, as we’re essentially following two sets of main characters. There’s the adult characters, including the returning Sidney, Dewey and Gale. In addition, there’s also Dewey’s deputies (including Anthony Anderson and Adam Brody), one of whom (Marley Shelton) is clearly crushing on Dewey, plus Sidney’s bitchy publicist (Alison Brie). And then there’s the younger, high school age group, comprised of Jill, her best friends Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) and Olivia (Marielle Jaffe), requisite movie geeks Robbie (Erik Knudsen) and Charlie (Rory Culkin), and Jill’s brooding ex-boyfriend, Trevor (Nico Tortorella). It’s a bit much, and in the mid-section, the film feels a bit disjointed, as we jump back and forth between the groups.
Overall though, Scream 4 is very effective. It’s Craven’s best film since Scream 2, back in 1997, as the veteran horror director seems to flourish (Scream 3 aside) when telling a story of this sort and balancing the comedy and horror elements. For horror fans, there are several good jumps and a decent amount of gore, though I wouldn’t qualify this film as particularly scary. However, it definitely works as a thrill ride and if you’re a fan of this franchise, it provides exactly the kind of horror meets comedy tone you want from a Scream film.
The cast is strong, with Campbell, Cox and Arquette easily stepping back into their old roles – though of the three, I’d say Arquette has the least to do in this installment. For the most part, the new cast members offer good performances as well, with Roberts having the appropriate girl next door vibe and Panettiere getting some amusing moments as the film-savvy Kirby. Tortorella is a bit hammy, in an underwritten role. Fans of certain actors in the cast, which also includes Battlestar’s Mary McDonnell as Jill’s mother, may be disappointed by the rather small roles they have, but it goes with the territory – what better way to establish that everyone is a suspect than to have so many recognizable people in the movie?
By the way, you may have noticed I haven’t mentioned the appearance of several other familiar young actresses seen in the trailers for Scream 4 – but again, it’s a case where saying too much would be taking a lot of the fun away. I’ll just say these cameos were very appreciated.
The first Scream specifically targeted scary movies (slasher movies to be precise), with Scream 2 taking self-aware jabs at sequels and Scream 3 acknowledging film trilogies. While Scream 4 has a number in its title, proudly proclaiming it is another sequel, there is certainly a specific topic brought up here, one that feels quite appropriate given the output from Hollywood in the past decade: Remakes, or “reboots,” if you insist on the term. With the series back in Woodsboro and a new crop of teen characters at the center, it’s not lost on the characters that a real-life “remake” of the original film is happening, via the killer’s bloody actions, and there are some crowd-pleasing elements involving this fact. Oh, and when it comes to name dropping other horror films, no, the fact that there have been seven Saw films since Scream 3 came out is not ignored.
There were reportedly some rather notable issues behind the scenes on Scream 4, which resulted in Williamson leaving the project and Ehren Kruger doing the final rewrites. For many fans, myself included, this was a point of concern, as Williamson seemed so essential as the voice of the series – and Scream 3, written solely by Kruger, felt so lacking. The final credits simply say “Written by Kevin Williamson,” with Kruger given a producing credit. While I haven’t read any of the drafts of the script to know for certain how much of Williamson’s material remains, I will say that Scream 4 definitely feels like Williamson is behind it – it has his wit and his approach stamped into its DNA. There are a few jokes that fail to land, and as mentioned earlier, the film’s middle portion is a bit shaky, but overall, Scream 4 delivers. The first film is still the best, but this is much more in line with (and perhaps even better than) the fun of Scream 2 than the drab Scream 3.
Bookending the strong opening, the ending of Scream 4 is clever and highly entertaining, and I enjoyed the revelation of the killer’s identity and their very modern motive and justification. And while there will almost certainly be more Scream films (everyone involved has talked about this likely being the first in a new trilogy), Scream 4’s conclusion also works well enough that it could serve as a nice series-ender, should they decide to finish it here.
Though, okay… we all know that’s just not going to happen.