To say expectations are high for Scream 4 would be an understatement. Fans who have stuck with the series are hoping that after an 11 year hiatus, the fourth entry in the franchise will reinvigorate it, giving it enough legs to go on for at least another couple of films. Those people will be disappointed, but luckily, there’s a difference between expectations and actual quality. Scream 4 may not be as good as Scream (or even Scream 2), but it’s still a solid film in its own right. As one critic pointed out after the screening, if this were just another slasher film, we’d be discussing how surprisingly good it was, but since it’s a Wes Craven helmed Scream film, we scrutinize it more. It’s a case similar to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which received positive reviews, but is generally hated by the movie going public who, unlike critics, don’t have an obligation to separate their franchise fandom from what is put onscreen. As a huge fan of the original trilogy, yes, I’m disappointed with Scream 4, but as a standalone film, it works and offers enough thrills to garner a recommendation.
Ten years have passed since the events of Scream 3. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) has moved on and even written a bestselling book called “Out of Darkness.” She is now on tour promoting the book and her next stop just happens to be her hometown of Woodsboro where the slayings actually occurred. Unfortunately for her, it seems a new Ghostface Killer is on the loose and is threatening to kill her and her young cousin, Jill (Emma Roberts). So along with old pals Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), they attempt to solve the mystery of who is behind the mask.
In 1996, Scream did something that, to my knowledge, had never been done before. It was a spoof on slasher films while itself remained a slasher film. It deconstructed the rules of the genre and used them in new ways to simultaneously make fun of itself and scare the wits out of the audience. The characters in Scream had seen countless horror films and were intelligent enough to see that they were trapped in one, even going so far as to have discussions about who would play them in the movie adaptation. If Scream was self aware enough to acknowledge that it was playing by the rules of your typical slasher film, Scream 4 is aware that it’s following the rules of a reboot. In a sense, Scream 4 is just Scream all over again. It’s like a “passing the torch” kind of movie, except the passing is more of a stabbing action and the torch is a new set of teens.
The problem is that this self awareness doesn’t go far enough. For every scene where characters discuss the rules of a reboot, there are three in between where it’s dropped completely. Kevin Williamson, the man behind the first two films, is credited as the writer on Scream 4, but Ehren Kruger, the penman of Scream 3, was brought in to do rewrites during its production. To pinpoint exactly who wrote what would be impossible, but it’s not difficult to assume that Kruger is responsible for the weaker parts of the script (there’s a reason Scream 3 is the worst in the franchise).
This comes as a disappointment because horror has changed a lot since Scream 3’s release in 2000. Torture porn is wildly popular, but Scream 4 only briefly discusses it. They “lack character development” and feature “just blood and guts” one girl says early on. That’s true, but taking a quick jab at it and saying something thoughtful are two different things. It also touches on the idea of never ending sequels (which Scream 4 is also an example of), but merely uses it as an excuse to repeat itself, which sequels so often do.
Still, there’s some good stuff here. While not an overall theme, it briefly brings up the idea that we have become so desensitized to violence in movies that we end up laughing at it. It even reminds us, through dialogue from Ghostface, that “this isn’t a comedy, it’s a horror film,” as we sit and laugh before the carnage unfolds. But perhaps the greatest example of self awareness comes in the form of horror movie loving nerds, not unlike the Jamie Kennedy character in the original trilogy, who explain that in reboots, “the kills have to be way more extreme.” It’s a rule Scream 4 seems to take to heart because it's brutal and even though it can be disgusting, it fits the self parody this franchise is so known for.
I’ve spent so much time discussing how it succeeds and fails as a meta film that I’ve neglected to answer the question of whether or not it’s scary. Like the rest of the film, it’s hit and miss. Some moments are terrifically suspenseful and others are so obvious you can count the beats until the jump scare. However, when it isn’t obvious, it does a wonderful job of playing with expectations. There are plenty of times where you’ll swear something is about to happen, but then it doesn’t. At the very least, it keeps you guessing.
And that guessing translates over to the killer (or killers). Scream 4 makes pretty much every character short of Sidney a suspect by allowing them all to go off on their own and reappear at inopportune times. It also gives a few of them tempers that produce sudden bursts of anger, and we all know you have to be pretty pissed off to murder someone. If that isn’t enough, the camera lingers on certain characters with extended close up shots that are sometimes accompanied by a loud musical sting. Frankly, the killer(s) could be anyone and I wouldn’t dare give the reveal away, though I will say that it raises some issues that I’m not sure would hold up on repeat viewings.
I suppose you could nitpick other little things, like the fact that Dewey’s limp brought on by his severed nerve is suddenly cured here, but that would be overlooking what Scream 4 is: an uncommonly smart, if severely flawed, slasher film that will make you laugh and frighten you on more than one occasion. It’s not the spot on parody that Scream was, but then again, what is?
Scream 4 receives 3.5/5