Review of Scream 4

Scream 4 (2011)
Same franchise, new decade
18 April 2011
Back in 1996, the first Scream was a breath of fresh air in the American horror film landscape: a smart, self-aware slasher movie that poked fun at the genre's various rules while still managing to be genuinely scary. In the fifteen years that have passed since the film made its debut, US horror has taken a turn for the worse, with an endless stream of remakes, torture porn and whatnot. Scream itself suffered from the law of diminished returns, with the third installment in particular being perceived by most as a tired repetition of the same old formula. It is therefore safe to say that it took a lot of guts (pun intended) to decide that Ghostface and his victims were ripe for a reinvention, with original director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson still on board. Well, that gutsy decision paid off, because Scream 4 is easily a match for the original in terms of quality.

This time around, the people of Woodsboro seem to be enjoying some well-deserved peace and quiet, since the only murders taking place now are in the latest episodes of the Stab franchise. That is, until a couple of teens are savagely butchered and some of their friends start receiving creepy phone calls (Scream veteran Roger Jackson is, as always, supplying the voice). One of these young potential victims is Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts), the cousin of Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) - who, coincidentally, is returning to her home town to promote a new book. Naturally, it doesn't take long before she and her old friends, Sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and former reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), end up on the killer's radar, and with the new trends in horror cinema, there are some new rules to pay attention to...

The big risk with Scream 4 was that it could all too easily turn into a bad joke, given the genre's lackluster form of late (a phenomenon Craven is well aware of, having even produced two remakes of his own films, although it must be said those were slightly better than most of their peers) and the fact that the first movie was itself made fun of in the inaugural Scary Movie (funnily enough, one of the new characters is played by funny-man Anthony Anderson, who had a prominent role in Scary Movie 3). The solution? Acknowledge the ridiculous nature of it all. The first ten minutes alone are a masterpiece of meta-cinema and self-mockery, with the very concept of movies-within-movies (alongside pointless sequels and torture porn) being the target of one of Williamson's jokes.

In fact, the events of Scream 4 are deliberately structured so as to mirror those of the original franchise-starter, which allows for some neat reflections on the concept of remakes and reboots. And yet, despite all the laughs and reinventions, this is still very much a Scream movie, and not just because Campbell, Cox and Arquette are back. Ghostface remains an iconic villain, and the scary scenes really go for the jugular. Sure, the last 20 minutes get a little close to self-parody, and, with the exception of Roberts (and Rory Culkin), the younger cast isn't that impressive. Then again, since they are typical horror movie victims, maybe that's part of the joke.

According to this film, the first rule of remakes is "Don't f*ck with the original". On those terms, Scream 4 is quite a success, as it sticks to what made the first episode work while providing a 21st century twist. Maybe it isn't enough to launch a new trilogy, but on its own terms it's an efficient mixture of gore and fun.
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