When it was first released, Scream was considered an original and refreshing take on the slasher genre. By Scream 3, some of the shine had worn off as it turned inwards to parody itself. Ten years later, Wes Craven and his surviving cast return for a fourth entry in the series, and by and large it's a bloody success.
In Scream 4, Sidney Prescott returns to her hometown of Woodsboro to promote her new self-help book. Naturally, a new psycho killer surfaces and starts killing off those close to her - namely good-looking friends of her teenage cousin Jill Roberts (played by Emma Roberts, niece of Julia Roberts, just so you aren't confused). The rest is a gut-splattering whodunit that pokes fun of horror remakes and reboots.
Scream 4 can be reviewed in two ways: in comparison to the last three Scream movies, and to slasher films as a whole. The former is where audiences will get into trouble; for those of us who love the Scream franchise, we've set ourselves up for disappointment, still expecting that a 15-year old concept is somehow going to be better than the original.
The movie isn't better than the original. And it's unrealistic to expect any other Scream sequel to come close, either.
Still, it's not unfair to compare the movies within the franchise. Scream 4 is a fun, self-parodying slasher flick that plays homage to the original while still delivering just enough surprises to remain interesting. Unfortunately, it does feel stale at times.
There are plenty of gory deaths -and some good ones, for that matter - but many all look and feel the same. More troubling is that while writer Kevin Williamson concocted a decent story, some of the characters are terribly written. Specifically, any scene with Dewey (David Arquette) or Deputy Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton) are absolutely cringe-inducing. Dewey is now sheriff, but he's even more of a bumbling idiot than before; the scenes feel fake and comical, but not in the way they're intended to be.
Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) gets some bad dialogue, too - and, what, no jokes about her plastic surgery?
While Williamson does a pretty good job of establishing some likable characters, many are left to caricatures of how old people - like Williamson (56) and Craven (72) - must see teenagers. Erik Knudsen's Robbie Mercer is a perfect example; the dude walks around with a video camera attached to his head all day. Really? Who do you know who does that?
Nevertheless, it is nice to see the characters back in play - especially Sidney. Neve Campbell does a fine job of resurrecting her role, and many of the supporting cast, namely Roberts and Hayden Panettiere, establish themselves quickly as likable, relatable characters.
The first half is at times inconsistent (primarily thanks to the terrible scenes with Dewey), but quickly picks up in the second. Most importantly, I loved the ending. When the killer(s) first reveals himself, you immediately get the sense of "been there, seen that." Uh-oh! But then Craven and Williamson take the ending in a new, very satisfying direction, resulting in a rather blood-chilling second climax that presents the killer as a rather deranged, determined and downright frightening threat - something Scream 2 and Scream 3 failed to do.
So, as far as Scream movies go, Scream 4 is a nostalgic return to simpler times. It isn't perfect, it isn't great, but it's still a blast and the unsettling and unpredictable ending help make up for some of the film's earlier shortcomings.
Now - remember back to about 27 paragraphs ago where I said Scream 4 can be reviewed in two lights? As a Scream movie, it's good but not great, but as a slasher flick - it really holds its own.
How many good slasher flicks have there been in the last ten years? What stands out in your mind? The Strangers was pretty scary, but it also ended up being sort of stupid. I'm sure there are a few others but I can't think of them.
Scream 4 is still a huge step above the vast majority of slasher films that come out each and every year. It may have lost some of its muster, but it's still smarter, better acted and better directed than most. Wes Craven, who hadn't done a good movie since 2005's Red Eye, keeps things suspenseful. The characters, more or less, are well developed and likable. And the ending is deliciously unpredictable
Don't expect a movie that's as good or better than the original Scream. When Craven and Williamson teamed up to make this fourth entry, they had two things on their mind: make money, and make a legitimate horror film. They succeeded in both regards. We should be happy about that.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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