Movie Review: Scream 4
By Matthew Huntley
April 21, 2011

And Ghostface is ready to take this company right into the 21st century.

The original Scream taught us there are certain rules one must follow in order to successfully survive a horror movie. Scream 2 and Scream 3 then taught us there are rules for surviving a sequel and a trilogy. Now comes Scream 4, which states there is yet another set of rules when it comes to surviving a remake. Gosh, I hope that covers all the horror movie bases, because I’d hate for Scream 5 to come along and discuss the rules for surviving a horror movie spoof, or did Scary Movie already cover that?

Many would agree the Scream series steadily declined as it went along. The first one is considered a classic, and rightly so, but the sequels range from average to bad. With Scream 4, the saga has hit a bit of a plateau. It is, in many ways, better than Scream 3, which was too outrageous and silly for its own good, but not to the point of bringing the series back after an 11-year hiatus. Let’s face it: the hip, self-aware horror movie thing has been played and it’s time to move on.

In the movie, all the usual survivors are back, led by the long-suffering Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who’s written a self-help book titled Out of the Darkness. She returns to Woodsboro, back to where it all began. And, wouldn’t you know, just when she arrives, the killings start up again. As usual, the movie opens with a murder sequence, although it playfully teases us into guessing which of its many openings is real and which one belongs to a movie within a movie. The series’ tongue-in-cheek humor and self-reflexive dialogue are as bountiful as ever.

Then the real plot kicks in as more characters fall victim to the infamous Ghost Face and his brooding, unsettling voice. Dewey (David Arquette), now Woodsboro’s sheriff, and Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), the plucky TV newswoman (they finally got married), once again provide the plot’s play-by-play.

The new heroine, I suppose, is Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts), Sidney’s cousin. She’s joined by Kirby (Hayden Panettiere), Olivia (Marielle Jaffe) and a couple of cinema club geeks, Charlie (Rory Culkin) and Robbie (Erik Knudsen), who explain the rules of today’s horror. “One of the only ways to survive,” they tell us, “is to be gay,” although we eventually learn that’s not always the case. We do, however, accept today’s killer will record the murders and then instantly post them on the Internet. In a time of smartphones, BlackBerrys and live streaming, it was inevitable.

Essentially, all these people are either would-be victims or the killer(s), or maybe both. They function not as fully-realized characters but as stock movie types. Of course, Scream 4 knows this and therefore absolves itself from the responsibility of actually making these people interesting, not that we ever expected them to be, although that might have taken the series in a new direction.

The problem is the movie doesn’t really go in a new direction, which turns out to be its downfall. If you’ve seen the other Scream pictures, you know they pretty much stick to the same formula, a formula that’s now tired and ready for retirement. What’s ironic is Scream itself originally lampooned formulas, namely the classic slasher flick. Little did it know, or maybe it did as another form of irony, it was starting one of its own. Thus, Scream 4 pays heed to all the clichés and conventions the series first wrote the book on. But just because it’s ironic doesn’t mean we should give the movie a pass. As a movie, it still has to entertain us, which it does only marginally.

There are some relatively tense moments and I applauded the much-needed jabs at movies like Saw IV, but these aren’t enough to consider Scream 4 useful or essential viewing. It’s not scary as much as it is witty, but even its wit has limited value because it’s been done before.

On one level, it was nice to see the Scream gang back together again. It brought back fond memories of how bold and fresh the original was and the standards it set. But I’m afraid the series is no longer living up to those standards. After so many sequels, perhaps it’s inevitable the franchise simply can’t have the impact it once had. Has any franchise beyond two or three installments ever been able to? That’s a question director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson will no doubt be asking if there’s ever a Scream 5. But let’s hope there’s not because, frankly, we’re just not interested any more. Craven, Williamson and the cast should take consolation in the fact that Scream broke new ground and graciously move on. The audience sure has.