The WES CRAVEN directed SCREAM 4 gets off to a rocky (Is this a SCREAM or SCARY MOVIE sequel?) start with a parade of patience pushing film-within-film parodies concerning personality free white girls left alone in personality free white houses. The joke aims to poke fun at the redundancy of sequels but comes across more as the pot texting the kettle to call it black. Let's just say DREW BARRYMORE's savage demise in the first flick needn't ever sweat about being dethroned as the strongest opening in the series. Happily though, once the marshmallow fluff commencement scene is scraped from SCREAM 4's windshield the movie plows forward and starts getting down to business and that business centers on characters with plenty of mileage on them in a setting we've been kept away from far too long, the town of Woodsboro.
Series survivor and "celebrity victim" Sidney Prescott (NEVE CAMPBELL) is back in her hometown on a book tour supporting her well received self-help tome "Out of the Darkness". Dutiful Dewey (DAVID ARQUETTE) has graduated to town sheriff and his once tigress wife Gale (COURTNEY COX) currently climbs the walls of her suburban cage declawed and uninspired. The audience and the denizens of Woodsboro are well aware that Sidney's homecoming can only mean one thing, that a new batch of grisly murders are about to ensue. It's notable that Sidney has mellowed to the point of accepting her lot in life. The reality is that no amount of ass-kicking will ever transform Prescott into a warrior/ hero. It's common knowledge that she's a cursed figure, an "Angel of death" who is followed by a wave of blood wherever she goes. She can attempt to write herself "out of the darkness," but it's only a matter of time before KEVIN WILLIAMS or worse, EHREN KRUGER writes her back in.
SCREAM 4 overloads its plate with zeitgeist gruel. Besides forcing the usual useless reductive "rules" down our throats, it blasts the current plethora of horror remakes, notes the rise of facebook and twitter and finishes things off with a somewhat biting critique of the ever-blurring line between unearned notoriety and legitimate fame. All of that is well and good, if not particularly fresh. Perhaps the movie itself is trapped in the same schema as once-was character Gale, desperately trying to convince itself of its own relevancy and meanwhile needlessly overlooking its own obvious natural charms. The movie battles with itself, tossing about terms like "meta" and "self aware" while struggling to find a balance between the then and the now. It wants to come to terms with its own age, to find meaning in its characters' struggles, to define the difference between "old" and "mature," but someone keeps forcing it to make stale celebrity jokes. (The idea that someone might sacrifice their last moments on Earth to utter an out of place punch line I'm assuming came from the aforementioned KRUGER who contributed a script "polishing". I've decided to indiscriminately scapegoat the guy for everything that smacks of hack in the film.)
More shocking than the truly surprising killer reveal in SCREAM 4 is the fact that I loved it regardless of it faults and I don't mind saying it's my favorite since the first. It's not exactly terrifying but it is suspenseful and goddamn it, I love sequels…especially slasher sequels. You can just carve that on my tombstone so there's no mistake. Sequels offer us a chance to observe characters as they change and grow and the decade plus fermenting period between SCREAMs 3 and 4 allow a type of novel ripening not witnessed since HALLOWEEN H20 (also penned by KEVIN WILLIAMS). If you ask me, age compliments the trio of SCREAM regulars well. Sidney has stopped wincing and rubbing her neck, Dewey has shed his mascot persona and Gale has grown into and certainly earned her trademark crankiness. Sid's annoying "specialness" is addressed (and then some) as is Gale's inability to garner appreciation for her invaluable contribution to the saga. SCREAM 4 picks up all the trash that SCREAM 3 impolitely left on the picnic table and that alone makes me a happy camper. Indeed, when we finally uncover the person or persons responsible for the new batch of knife slaughter they dump a bowl of crazy on the floor that easily rivals that which graced the first installment.
Being a bitter hater, the one thing I was not looking forward to (besides enduring a freshening-up on the always spurious "rules") was getting to know the new younger generation cast. Call it Cousin Oliver Syndrome but I'm always a bit skeptical when youngins are trotted out and expected to be welcomed into the fold without question. Imagine my surprise when EMMA ROBERTS as Sid's young cousin turned out to be one highly memorable and multilayered slasher "good girl" and HEROES' HAYDEN PANNETTIERE, with her raspy voice and Peter Pan hair cut, nearly walked away with the entire film. As messy as some of the generational collisions are executed, these two stand outs (particularly plucky PANNETTIERE) really add a nice dose of effervescent energy to counteract the grounded, near melancholia of the adult players. Faring far less well is MARY MCDONNELL taking over for a "Count me out!" LAUREN GRAHAM in the uncoveted role of "Mom who gets stabbed after bringing in groceries." (Please tell me she has a deleted scene somewhere that explains why she exists.)
So, SCREAM 4, is a crazy stew of missed opportunities, sometimes trite dialogue and random pointless characters that also miraculously yields a powerfully enthralling villain reveal, some genuine intestine enhanced bloodshed, several good jolty scares and a rare chance to visit with characters that have gotten even more interesting with age and even a few snappy new ones. It may have two left feet under its robe at points but at least there's nothing as alarmingly embarrassing as certain moments in Parts 2 and 3. (Unless of course you count the clunky BRUCE WILLIS joke.) Most importantly, it does finally offer up one golden glorious "rule" that can actually be put to good use… "Don't fuck with the original." There's a better movie begging to break free for sure and I don't blame LAUREN GRAHAM for jumping on the first bus out of town, but I'm certainly happy I got to spend some time in Woodsboro again.