Despite my limitless affinity for the horror genre and all the crap it’s thrown my way over the years, I’ve never been an especially big fan of the “Scream” franchise. I mean, I don’t HATE it, but it’s not like I shake in my boots with anticipation whenever a new installment is announced, either. Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s little concoction has always struck me as being too precious for its own good, too, “Oooh, look at what a good boy am I?” type of showboating. Yeah, yeah, I get it, you’re so hip and post-modern that you’re making fun of the genre even while you’re indulging in the same things you’re making fun of. Wow, aren’t you the clever little boy? Here, let me give you a rub on the head. There you go. Clever boy! Oh you’re so clever! Anyways.
It’s been 13 years since “Scream 3”, and Ghostface killer survivor Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) has become the author of a self-help book, having written about her experiences surviving the slasher when all of her friends and family have fallen victim. She has two like-minded comrades, though — bumbling Deputy Dewey (played by the bumbling David Arquette), now the Sheriff of Woodsboro, and his wife, former sensationalistic journalist turned fiction writer Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). (Bonus post-modern hipness alert! After co-starring in three “Scream” movies together and playing love interests onscreen, Arquette and Cox ended up married in real life, and it’s not until “Scream 4” was in production that tabloids learned the two were splitting up. So the fact that Dewey and Gale’s marriage is on the rocks in the movie is either a clever “wink wink” subplot by Williamson, or an unintentionally endearing (or is that ironic?) side bit.)
“Scream 4” manages the delicate balance of introducing fans to a new generation of victims — er, I mean, characters — while still giving the “originals” their due. Sidney’s return to Woodsboro triggers a new series of slayings courtesy of the masked Ghostface killer, a self-ironic masked maniac who calls to taunt his victims before striking. The reunited triumvirate of Sidney, Dewey, and Gale gamely attempt to deal with this new menace, while their younger counterparts seek shelter in, uh, horror movie trivia. The new generation include Sidney’s cousin, Jill (Emma Roberts) and her two best friends, the smart-as-a-whip Kirby (“Heroes'” Hayden Panettiere) and Olivia (Marielle Jaffe). There are also two A/V geeks (Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen) who are prime candidates for the new slashers since they sure know an awful lot about what the killer is up to. Of course, they’ll have to share the possible killer/red herring role with Jill’s stalkery ex-boyfriend Trevor (Nico Tortorella), who keeps disappearing at the most unexpected time and showing up at the most unexpected places.
With the duo of Williamson back behind the typewriter (do self-aware, hip Hollywood screenwriters still use typewriters?) and Wes Craven behind the camera, “Scream 4” is an easy companion piece to the previous three movies. It’s no better or worst than the previous three, and if anything it probably thinks it’s more clever than it really is in terms of its use of high-falutin’ technology (webcams are everywhere, everyone carries a smartphone, and some geeky devil has made a Ghostface app to impersonate the killer’s voice — I guess Apple doesn’t screen their apps as much as they claim!). And like most movies that tries to “expose” our modern technology-driven world, it takes liberties with a number of its tech for creative license purposes. But never you mind that. That’s for the A/V geeks to get their panties into a’twitter about. (Speaking of Twitter and Facebook…)
“Scream 4” opens with one of those oh-so-clever (but at this point, expected) movie within a movie within a movie gags, and features cameos aplenty from big names in small roles. Kristen Bell and Anna Paquin show up in essentially one-scene-one-kill appearances, probably because they grew up on the first three “Scream” movies and just wanted to get in on the action. An amusing Mary McDonnell is wasted as Jill’s mom, but Marley Shelton as Dewey’s comely Deputy is a nice addition. “Community’s” Alison Brie is also deliciously bitchy as Sidney’s PR flack, while Culkin and Knudsen, as the A/V geeks, are just irritating. Most of the characters in “Scream 4” are disposable, with most of them meeting gruesome, audience-endearing ends. As to the real identity of the killer, Williamson and Craven plays so fast and loose with movie physics that it could be anyone and everyone. Hell, even Sidney could be the killer. (I’m not saying she is … or isn’t.)
There’s a reason the previous “Scream” movies continue to pull in new audiences, and “Scream 4” is no different. It’s the kind of movie that you enjoy watching with some friends and then introducing new people to. The franchise’s main selling point — its biggest draw — is that it confirms its core audience’s opinions of themselves as clever horror movie buffs. Oh sure, it doesn’t actually do anything new each time out, but it does remind you that you’re “in” on the joke, and so, most people don’t mind the repetitive nature of it. In any case, longtime fans of the franchise will enjoy watching the new bloods spill theirs (in buckets and gushers, oh my) while still appreciating Williamson’s careful, even reverential handling of Sidney. Sure, “Scream 4” is basically more of the same, but it LOOKS newer, and it’s still as clever as you are, so let’s not dig too deep, alright?
Wes Craven (director) / Kevin Williamson (screenplay)
CAST: Neve Campbell … Sidney Prescott
Alison Brie … Rebecca Walters
David Arquette … Dewey Riley
Courteney Cox … Gale Weathers-Riley
Hayden Panettiere … Kirby Reed
Emma Roberts … Jill Roberts
Marielle Jaffe … Olivia Morris
Marley Shelton … Deputy Judy Hicks
Erik Knudsen … Robbie Mercer
Rory Culkin … Charlie Walker
Nico Tortorella … Trevor Sheldon