Eleven years since the conclusion of the trilogy, producers introduce the “Scream” franchise to a new generation.
Having finally come to terms with her dark past, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns to her hometown of Woodsboro to promote her new book. While in town, Sidney hopes to reconnect with her estranged cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and fellow survivors, Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale (Courtney Cox).
These plans are disrupted when her return coincides with the brutal slaying of two local teenagers. As more bodies drop, it becomes clear someone is trying to remake the original massacre in an attempt to reboot the worn-out “Stab” franchise (the movie series spawned by the original Woodsboro massacre).
It’s a clever set-up that enables the film to critique the current dire state of the horror movie industry and exploit the new horror movie clichés that have developed over the past decade.
Impressively, each of the returning cast members seamlessly returns to their iconic roles, yet sadly with such a sprawling cast of recognizable stars and a lot of ground to cover (after all, a lot happened in the past 11 years), some of the cast members are left criminally underutilized.
Of the new cast, Hayden Panettiere and Alison Brie are the most impressive, managing to leave strong impressions in their respective roles. The other standouts are Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen playing Woodsboro High’s resident horror movie geeks Charlie and Robbie.
Trying to adapt to the times, “Scream 4” is by far the most violent of the series, with one bedroom murder being so gruesome it almost feels better suited to another franchise. Despite it being excessive at times, the film actually benefits from this heightened violence as it acts as a way to both make the killer more menacing and to arouse sympathy for the underdeveloped characters.
The whodunit aspect of the film, a staple of the franchise, also works surprisingly well. The end reveal, if not entirely plausible, is both shocking and acts as a clever way to critique postmodern culture.
What ultimately prevents “Scream 4” from matching the high quality of the original film is its inability to properly balance the horror and comedy elements that made the series so popular in the first place. Whereas the original was able to balance these elements admirably, the comedic elements in “Scream 4” too often overpower the suspense and refute the emotional weight each of the deaths should bear.
“Scream 4” may not be the groundbreaking film that will forever change the industry the way the first film managed, but it is both an innovative and undeniably fun sequel.