When I saw the original Scream, I was blown away. I had always been afraid of horror movies, but hype compelled me to check out this genre-buster, and I thoroughly enjoyed the way it took its “meta” so seriously. Now, three movies and 15 years later, the gang is back. Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette have reprised their roles, along with writer Kevin Williamson (currently finding success with the fang-tastic Vampire Diaries show on The CW), and horror auteur Wes Craven as director. Since it’s been 11 years since the last Scream movie, the inside joke for Scream 4 is that it’s a reboot. As in previous installments, the best part about the franchise is that it acknowledges, mocks, and upends horror movie conventions. While it doesn’t really comment on what original cast members are doing in a reboot (since most reboots feature original cast in little more than cameo roles), it’s great that they’re here because the “new generation” characters don’t hold much of a candle to Sidney, Gale or Dewey. Even the opening sequence, which we know from the previous movies no one will survive to be part of the main movie, is so self-referential that it is not scary in its own right. Piling on the young starlets like Shenae Grimes (from 90210), Lucy Hale (from Pretty Little Liars), Anna Paquin (from True Blood) and Kristen Bell (from Veronica Mars) was overkill. If I’d had my way, Williamson should have written a more clever (and scary) sequence that just featured Bell as the victim (much like Drew Barrymore from the original Scream). Nevertheless, one of the themes of Scream 4 (yes, there are themes!) is that times have changed since the original trilogy, but despite that idea, one of the elements that hasn’t changed is the iconic “Ghostface” mask and black cloak of the killer. Unfortunately all the intervening years, with their spoofs and sendups of that costume, have actually made it more humourous than scary. I wish they’d done a reboot on that as well.
The premise of this movie is that Campbell’s Sidney Prescott has become a writer, authoring a self-help style book about overcoming the darkness in her life. As the final stop on her book tour, she returns to her sleepy-yet-deadly home town of Woodsboro (with killer-bait publicist Alison Brie in tow) where she ends up staying with aunt Kate (played by a criminally underused Mary McDonnell — we miss you, President Roslin!) and cousin Jill (played by Emma Roberts, who once played Nancy Drew, but I’ve not seen her in anything). Being the notorious “angel of death” that she is, Sidney’s presence summons the return of Ghostface and the killing begins with some young friends of Jill’s who die in rapid succession. Cox’s Gale Weathers is still in town, married to now-sheriff Dewey Riley. Wanting to get back in the Ghostface-stopping game, Gale flexes her investigative muscles to try to find out who’s behind the current spree. Meanwhile Sidney just tries to protect her family while the bodies drop around her. Pretty quickly, we are introduced to all kinds of side characters/potential suspects. There’s Marly Shelton as deputy Hicks, whose obvious crush on Sheriff Dewey and crazy eyes make her a clear suspect (which of course means that she’s not the killer) and Adam Brody and Anthony Anderson as other deputies and potential stab-fodder. There’s also Jill’s ex boyfriend, Trevor, her best friend Kirby (played by former indestructible Hero Hayden Panettiere), and film geeks Robbie and Trevor (taking the Randy/Jamie Kennedy role of expounding the rules of horror cinema), who are either potential suspects or victims.
One of the problems with this movie is that it can’t decide whether to focus on the new kids (who all seem very vapid and dull) or the original characters. In my mind, the only scenes with dramatic substance are the ones where Sidney tries to deal with the impact all this killing has on her life. I’ve always loved Neve Campbell and I think she does a great job in this movie, whether she’s looking soulfully out into the darkness, or kicking some white-masked butt. Gale and Dewey are having their share of grown up problems as well. Gale seems to be facing a bit of mid-life crisis as she can’t seem to revive her writing career. Not until the killings start again does she feel energized. On the other hand, little is made of Dewey’s cartoonish job as a small-town sheriff. The whole department seems like something out of Police Academy (if only Adam Brody could have produced some vocal sound effects). Is it just me, or does it seem crazy that a town famous for its serial killers and bloodbaths would have such ridiculously underqualified cops. Plus, you’d think that they would call in additional, big-city reinforcements once people started dying again, right? (On that note, why would a small town hospital have a six-storey parking garage?)
That being said, the tongue-in-cheek tone does add to this movie, and even though (as a few characters point out) the story seems to be following the pattern of the original, it doesn’t end the way you think it’s going to end. Not that it’s much of a surprise at any point, but at least it’s not simply a redo of the original with better production values (Take that, Tron Legacy!) If Scream 4 was meant to bring the franchise to a new generation of fans, I doubt that it did much in that respect. I think it will probably just be filed as one of the many movies that followed and imitated the original classic over the years. (3.5 out of 5)