“What’s your favorite scary movie?”
Never say “I’ll be right back.” That’s what director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson taught us with their killer-serial Scream between 1996 and 2000. Heeding their own advice, they waited 10 years from the last entry of the trilogy before beginning things anew with Scream 4. The question is: can they thread the needle, pleasing old fans of the original films while engaging a new generation of horror fiends raised on Saw and Hostel? I think they’ve done it. Enough time has passed since part three for the new film to have regained a measure of freshness and the gleeful mix of self-referential humor and brutality might be a novelty to a new group of fans.
After a bravura opening sequence that begins with a familiar phone call and cleverly folds in the Scream films with Stab, the meta franchise-within-a-franchise, the oft terrorized Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns to her troubled home town of Woodsboro, California with a new book about her experiences 10 years before. There she finds familiar faces Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and his wife, reporter-turned-author Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). This time however, Sidney must protect her cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) who is now targeted by a certain masked fellow with a black cloak, horror film fixation, extensive phone contact list and a very sharp knife (once again voiced by Roger Jackson).
Scream 4 is a little like being revisited by an old friend you didn’t know you missed. It’s comfortable without being completely predictable and it’s still a lot of fun. While it doesn’t bring anything new to the table besides a nod to the internet generation which has sprung up since the last film, it’s been gone long enough that it almost feels vital again. In addition to the old faces, Emma Roberts (It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Julia’s niece), Hayden Panettiere (TV’s Heroes), Rory Culkin (Lymelife, Macaulay’s younger brother) and Alison Brie (TV’s Community and Mad Men) inject a new energy and they help keep it from getting stale.
Having said that, Scream 4 is definitely better at delivering laughs than scares. There are jumps for sure, but rarely any sustained suspense. Then again, there’s a seriousness to some of the R-rated violence and, as always, the uncomfortable sense that anyone can get it at any time. Besides, any amount of humor will necessarily act as kind of a tension relief valve and Scream 4 would’ve had to have been extra grim in its serious moments to truly be scary anyway. The first one worked best because it was changing the game before your eyes while also delivering laughs. You never quite expected what was going to happen next.
While the original Scream broke the horror mold wide open, the sequels have mainly been variations on the same theme; upping the ante perhaps but never really changing the game and number 4 continues that trend. In the end, I’m not sure we really needed another entry in the franchise – the series kind of started to run out of gas as soon as it began referring to itself and not just other horror movies – but it’s here and at least it never feels like a cynical paycheck gig for anyone involved. Wes Craven directs with flair, and Kevin Williamson’s script has the sharpness and snap you expect without getting too bogged down in its own cleverness. All in all, the cast and crew are having fun with Scream 4 and I think so will you.
Scream 4. USA 2011. Directed by Wes Craven. Screenplay by Kevin Williamson. Cinematography by Peter Deming. Music score composed by Marco Beltrami. Edited by Peter McNulty. Starring Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, Mary McDonnell, Marley Shelton, Nico Tortorella and Marielle Jaffe. 1 hour 50 minutes. MPAA Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some teen drinking. 3.5 stars (out of 5).
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