Scream 4

3 out of 5

Directed by: Wes Craven

This is definitely what this series needed in order to return in the “modern” era in which it did – around the bend of the teen horror wave it kicked off, and the torture porn wave that was likely a response to that, and then, in the midst of a series of remakes and reboots… how would the granddaddy of meta horror remain relevant?

The obvious thing take would be to just go with its flow: it satirized sequels; it satirized trilogies; so now it can just do the same with remakes and reboots, assuming it wanted to repeat the diminishing returns of the former entry, from ten years back. Instead, director Wes Craven and returning writer Kevin Williamson take the single smart note from that former entry – of diving into ridiculousness head first – but then swerve back to actually craft a fun horror movie, instead of trying to force a meta blanket onto the whole thing. So we get a film-within-a-film-within-a-film that leads to some teens watching Stab 7 – the in-movie franchise that’s based on events from the first couple Screams – along with some amusing chatter about the silliness of the whole thing, and then that serves as our hook for reintroducing Ghost Face, back in Woodsboro for some more stabbings, coincidentally at the time that Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is in town to promote her survivor’s self-help book.

There’s no need to try to be overly clever about this, rather, Craven and Williamson have fun with the current crop of high school students (including Sidney’s cousin, Jill, played by Emma Roberts) remarking on how new sequels for long-in-the-tooth series can only be effective by throwing out all previous rules, and everyone just immediately jumps back into the fray, the investigation led by now-police captain Dewey (David Arquette), with his now-wife Gale (Courteney Cox) trying to relive her reporter heydays by inserting herself into matters as often as possible. Slightly dated webcam usage may play a part here, but unlike, say Halloween: Resurrection or Hellraiser: Hellworld, Craven and Williamson are smart enough to not focus on that as some mind-blowing new quirk to the formula; and even if some of the messaging surrounding the “always online” idea feels similarly out-of-touch because they do harp on that a bit, seeing as how Ghost Face killers have occasionally been seeking fame and those other two failed franchise entries from decades prior also offered versions of those ideas… it’s an enduring concept, supported by whatever the current trend is. Scream 4 wields it as clunkily or as well as any other horror movie.

There’s some flashy affectation in the flick, with moodier lighting than previous entries and a bit more grit in the gore, but it’s not out place, and proves that Craven was still on top of his game, and visual trends: Scream 4 looks like it belongs in the era in which it appeared. But it also features similar horror movie pitfalls, then, with a somewhat sagging midsection with repetitive cat and mouse before the final sequence of showdowns – these climaxes almost always a highlight in Scream flicks – and some stretched logic to allow for our final killer reveal. Ultimately, though, it’s a solid flick, definitely besting Scream 3 by far and showing that the concept can still have bite, while winking at its genre peers.