Sometimes there’s a certain magic present when creating something great in the moment. 1996’s Scream was an instant classic, breathing life into a dying genre. Horror films suddenly became viable again for studios. On the other hand, the tongue-in-cheek, self-aware ironic humor not only paved the way for countless movies to come, but changed how the mass public demanded their comedy as well. Scream 2 did well to duplicate that tone without replicating the formula. Scream 3 lost some of its edge, but also gave audiences a satisfying conclusion to characters’ stories they had invested themselves in up to that point.
Scream 4 takes notes from all three films, and finely tunes every aspect to match expectations during this age of quality sequels and reboots. But perhaps the film is a bit too finely tuned. The tone is on brand, but a lot has changed in the eleven years since its previous installment, and filmmakers’ mindsets naturally adapt with the times. As much as there was that intangible magic with Scream 1, there’s also a certain unexplainable lack of that same magic with this fourth film.
On the 15th anniversary of the Woodsboro killings (the events from Scream 1), two high school students in Woodsboro are murdered by Ghostface as they just finished watching Stab 7–the latest in the Stab franchise, which was inspired by the events in the Scream movies. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns home as part of a promotional tour for her book based on her life. Evidence from this new crime is found in Sidney’s trunk and she becomes a suspect, even though we, and the characters in the movie, all know she didn’t do it. Ultimately, this little detail results in nothing.
This time around, the story introduces a new generation of teens, while also including the regulars from the first three films. Emma Roberts plays Jill, Sidney’s teenage cousin, who has found herself and her friends in the middle of this new string of murders. The rest of the film plays out as the characters try to figure out who the new killer is.
Wes Craven, back to direct the fourth installment, along with writer Kevin Williamson, who also penned the first two films, seem to have a bone to pick with teenagers of 2011. They seem unforgivingly resentful towards a new generation of tech-loving millennials who crave media attention and try to fabricate their own fame, ultimately deeming that fame meaningless. The filmmakers aren’t wrong, but at times let their opinions come off a little too strong for this franchise. Scream has always been satire-filled, but this time there seems to be bit more frustration behind it.
Scream 4 makes a lot of the right moves, amping up the satire and self-parody that was lost a little with its predecessor, but also doesn’t do enough to blend itself seamlessly with the original trilogy. It makes connections to the previous story, but still feels like it doesn’t belong with the other three, and like the filmmakers could’ve left the conclusive trilogy alone. There’s a curious lack of any references to the killers from the previous films. As Scream 3 wrapped up a long story, this movie doesn’t acknowledge any of the characters’ (or our) confusion regarding that closure now being reopened.
However, as a standalone, Scream 4 is highly entertaining. Craven does well to constantly keep the story moving, with its kinetic pace being one of its strongest qualities. The killer’s motives may not be as personal to the story as its predecessors, but this one features a real psychopath because of that muddled motive–even though you may be able to figure out who it is if you’ve been educated at all by this series.
Scream 4 does well as a reboot, but not necessarily a sequel. It’s just not a movie you think about long after its over.