MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, Rory Culkin, Mary McDonnell, Marley Shelton, Alison Brie, Marielle Jaffe, Nico Tortorella, Erik Knudsen, Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Lucy Hale, Shenae Grimes, Britt Robertson, Aimee Teegarden; Voice of: Roger L. Jackson/Runtime: 111 minutes
I think it is safe to start this review off by asking you, the reader a question: when you get right down to it what horror franchise do you feel is the one that most identify as being the legacy left by iconic film director Wes Craven? I mean yes I know the man also did Last House on the Left and Hills Have Eyes amongst others, but I’m talking about the franchises he created of which there is, arguably, only two: Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. I mean on one hand seeing as how the first franchise arguably helped usher in a new era for horror cinema, gave the world one of the most iconic villains of the past 4 decades, and gave us Lord knows how many sequels (including one crossover with Jason), a TV show, and other crossovers/follow-ups/merchandising across different forms of pop culture, I really feel it would be difficult to not call Elm Street the clear victor. Yet then there is also Scream which Craven did the first 4 entries of and which is quite the curious outlier in the world of horror cinema. I mean yes they are infinitely tamer in terms of content than its fellow franchise and the killer at the heart of this series might not be as familiar to some as the wisecracking Freddy, but there is something novel about a series of horror films that deal primarily with the world of horror in cinema be it how they are made, how to live through it, or understanding that the clichés that exist in them are actually a great tool for survival. Indeed whereas most entries in the world of horror cinema are fictional constructs, the Scream franchise has always been one that has been able to make that proverbial line a bit harder to see whilst still operating in a world that is a fabrication of the mind. This of course brings us to the 4th installment in this iconic franchise, the first also after a 11 year hiatus incidentally, and thankfully time has not dulled Ghostface’s blade any. If anything, it just gave him the time he needed to sharpen it up. I say this because Scream 4 is thankfully a clever, thrilling, and quite riveting return to Woodsboro that manages to be everything you would want it to be and so much more.
The plot is as follows: So in the world of this series we see that, in the time that we have been gone, the series within the series known as Stab is one that has managed to reach new heights. Indeed the series has managed to get all the way to a 7th installment, even if the 5th one dealt with traveling through time and wasn’t perhaps the best in the world, and is still making quite a bit of money at the box office. So it is that even though a decade has passed since the initial murders which seemed to be the inspiration for these movies have come to an end, the gravy train capitalizing on Sydney Prescott’s story seems to just keep rolling along. At the same time though, we see that the time has been enough for Miss Prescott to finally be able to move on from the horrors of her past so much so that she, when our story opens, has written a book about her life and the journey of recovery she has gone on and plans to go home to Woodsboro for the last stop on the book tour to try and conquer her demons once and for all. As you might expect though, Sydney coming home has the side effect of people beginning to pop up viciously murdered and soon we see that Sydney and her cousin Jill are placed under the protection of Sydney’s old friend Dewey, now the town’s Sheriff, and his deputy Judy whilst Dewey’s wife Gale, despite being retired from the news and sensational reporting games for a while now, tries to continuously offer assistance in finding the killer. Of course it soon becomes obvious that this pattern of butchery isn’t exactly following what came before and now everyone is a suspect, nothing is what it appears, and it seems that no one is truly safe from this new rendition of an old menace…..
Now right off the bat I feel I have to ask: can I even call Scream 4 a horror movie sequel? I mean I ask because I feel like this slice of bloody cinematic pie is in many respects something that manages to go beyond being just a mere sequel, but to tell you any more than that would be a significant disservice to showing off just what macabre fun and astonishment that film helmer Craven and film scribe Kevin Williamson have up their sleeves for you. Now with that being said, I feel I should talk about how delightfully good this movie actually turns out to be. Indeed I say this because how clever this movie, let alone the series of which it is a vital part, has always managed to astonish me. Indeed this slice of cinematic pie manages to tip-toe on the very same line that the first 3, but especially the first one, did with such skill and ease and does it with a degree of both pride and confidence that it won’t ever go off the path it has set up for itself as twisty as that road may turn out to be. Indeed this slice of cinematic pie seems to truly relish being as Meta as it is that it assertively and boldly winks and nods toward other Meta entries in the horror genre with ease. Even more remarkable than that though is the fact that this immersive slice of cinematic pie is one that manages to never ever get the viewer lost along the way despite its leisurely pace and inserting a fair bit of self-deprecating comedy, a decent-size cast of characters that are novel yet also strangely familiar, side trips into the world of Stab, and also continuing the stories of the 3 main leads. Thus what makes this slice of cinematic pie as wonderful as it is would be the fact that it manages to blend everything together into a film that is delightfully intelligent and although there is a lot that is familiar here, Craven still does a wonderful job of making it all feel organic in the best way possible. Yes how complex this film is in regards to both its own narrative as well as how it continues on from the original three might be a bit too complex for someone new to the series, but if you’ve been following this series since the beginning or you just love horror movies I promise you will be quite pleased with this.
Now from a structure perspective, it should be said that this film manages to engage in the same formular as the first three movies. By that I mean this movie has quite the expansive (and expendable) list of characters who by and large are there to be seen as possible guilty parties in the vicious blood bath going on. Indeed be it knowing something they shouldn’t, possessing a legit motive, or just showing up at the worst possible moment, this movie is full of misdirection that manages to ratchet up the suspense and raise the level of confusion in the narrative. Suffice it to say then that the party involved in this particular blood bath is hidden very well and the revelation of who is behind it will most assuredly be a surprise. Also whilst this one does tend to get bloodier than the first three thankfully the blood and guts do not negate the narrative in the same way that the movies this one mercilessly slices and dices do. Indeed, much in the same vein as the other three movies, this one is quite often just as comedic as it is terrifying. Yes there are elements in this that nearly change this movie from a serious film into something out of Scary Movie, but in all fairness the same could be said about the other 3 as well and thankfully Craven and company do make sure the movie is not able to go down that fork in the road. As a result, we get a film that is a wonderful balancing act between visceral violence and dark comedy that, as the cast of characters engage in the wink and nod self-aware style that have made this series so wonderful, has enabled people to truly enjoy this movie as it ducks and dives through the clichés that the horror genre created and that this series has consistently turned on their respective heads.
Yet out of everything perhaps the best ingredient this slice of cinematic pie has going for it is that our 3 main leads are still as riveting and dynamic as ever. I say that because yet again we see that Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courtney Cox all manage to be top-flight yet again in this installment as each manages to transition into this one the same qualities, points of view, and quirks their characters are known for thus not only making the continuity seem that much more flawless but it also permits the audience to better understand them and witness the events in the film through their eyes yet again as well. Yes Campbell’s Sydney is still the heart of this particular installment, but this time she doesn’t feel like she is the focus as well. Rather, the world of this particular horror series seems to have expanded and grown around her to the point that it feels bigger and more genuine than it did in even the first three movies. Perhaps it is how the series has matured or how there was a time span of 11 years between this film and the third one, but whatever the answer may be there is no denying that Scream 4 is the recipient of a more open world that allows us to feel like that the era of predictability is over the era of anything could happen is now in. We also see that the new blood, pun intended, in this is a wonderful smorgasbord of individuals that either give off the vibe of being throwbacks to the first three movies or who are in this film in order to die a brutally visceral demise which helps to keep the body count high, but not at the cost of knifing the narrative in the jugular either. Indeed every character in this movie has a reason for being there and each person involved does a top-notch job from the people you just know are going to bite the dust at the beginning all the way to our main 3 who the less said about the better.
All in all I think it is safe to say that even though Scream 4 is as good as Scream 2 and also manages to be better than the good but not phenomenal Scream 3, the question everyone reading this is probably asking is the one of “is this slice of cinematic pie better than the iconic original?” To be honest not really, but the divide between the two is not as expansive as you might believe with perhaps the key reason being….well ok there isn’t just one reason in particular, but they all do have the common ingredients of not only a familiarity with the first three films, especially the first one, and seeing this one more than once to really figure it out. At the same time though, is it really on the level to try and compare this movie to its predecessors? I mean yes they are all integral components to a bigger story, but when approaching this from a nuts and bolts aspect including how strong each film’s story is, the quality of filmmaking involved, how each fits into the bigger picture, and just how entertaining they are on their own then I can say it would be quite difficult for me not to sing this movie’s praises. Indeed it’s intelligent, riveting, and it’s a beautiful continuation of a world that iconic horror film helmer Wes Craven first took us to all the way back in the long-gone year 1996. A world that, besides the one found on Elm Street, will always be the first thing people remember him for whilst also serving as a springboard for those who are interested to check out the rest of this iconic helmer’s body of work. On a scale of 1-5 I give Scream 4 “2011” a solid 3.5 out of 5.