Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Scream 4

Back in 1996, famed scary-movie director Wes Craven teamed with writer Kevin Williamson on a film project that didn’t just introduce the world to a new iconic slasher personality (in the form of Ghostface), the pair succeeded in making a genre film that took every horror trope imaginable – and turned it on its head.

Scream, as well as its subsequent sequels, were love-letters to horror film fans with plenty of meta-references including Stab, the film series within a film series, as well as the notorious “rules for survival” that served as tongue-in-cheek winks at the genre – while also serving as an ironclad set of guidelines for each film to work around.

Number one: you can never have sex, number two: you can never drink or do drugs, and number three: never, ever, ever under any circumstances say, “I’ll be right back.”

It was the interplay between genre-fueled expectation and smart storytelling that created a number of memorable set-pieces (as well as twists) in the original trilogy. However, there’s no doubt that Scream 2 and (especially) Scream 3 failed to live up to the bar set by the original. Will the return of Williamson (who passed on the third film), paired with a decade-full of new horror properties to satirize, capture the same magic as the original? Or, much like Craven’s other recent work, is Scream 4 just another brainless slasher film?

Fortunately the answer is it almost captures the same magic. Scream 4 is without a doubt a much better film than the prior Scream sequels – offering plenty of scares, suspicion, as well as light-hearted commentary about the state of the horror genre. More than any of the previous Scream installments, this film is unapologetic about meta-references and horror-film expectations – turning audience anticipation upside down once again. There are plenty of plot holes and a number of bland performances but for the most part the actors and filmmakers deliver an enticing and intentionally cheesy diversion from the current genre staples (torture-porn and gritty reboots).

Scream 4 is a scary film that’s scary fun – not scary disturbing.

Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and David Arquette in 'Scream 4'

If you were a fan of the original trilogy but are still confused about Scream 4’s place in the franchise, check out the synopsis below:

In Scream 4, Sidney Prescott, now the author of a self-help book, returns home to Woodsboro on the last stop of her book tour. There she reconnects with Sheriff Dewey and Gale, who are now married, as well as her cousin Jill (played by Emma Roberts) and her Aunt Kate (Mary McDonnell). Unfortunately Sidney’s appearance also brings about the return of Ghostface, putting Sidney, Gale, and Dewey, along with Jill, her friends, and the whole town of Woodsboro in danger.

Unlike Craven’s recent writing/directing effort My Soul to Take (read our review), Scream 4 is brought to life once again by the surprisingly cohesive collaboration between the director and Williamson’s script. While Craven’s recent creations don’t have the depth necessary to carry a film, the director has no problem taking someone else’s writing – and translating it into tense and compelling onscreen drama (and suspense) that holds-up well even in the current action-focused cinescape.

As in any slasher film, the characters are stereotype frames but a number of tongue-in-cheek performances (especially by Hayden Panettiere and Erik Knudsen) give the characters an added level of polish that isn’t often seen in the horror genre – allowing for some actual surprises along the way. Even the least-assuming Woodsboro residents are portrayed with a bit of menace, successfully keeping audiences on their toes – without resorting to manipulative shifts out-of-character.

New Ghostface victims Hayden Panettiere and Emma Roberts

Like its predecessors, playing against expectation is one of the greatest strengths of Scream 4 – not only in terms of the “Rules for Survival” and the over-arching story beats but also during the moment-to-moment tension. Good slasher films succeed when they can surprise the audience – in spite of the numerous tropes of the genre. However, Scream 4 not only delivers surprises, the film succeeds by showing the audience something ominous and fulfilling that tension – but in a manner that flies in the face of expectation. While it might sound obvious on paper, no horror film has ever taken the trick as literal as Scream 4.

For horror fans that are less interested in all the meta-film commentary, Scream 4 also offers the most kills of the series. The slasher sequences in the film are not only more frequent than prior installments – they’re also larger in scope. Several of the Woodsboro victims are dispatched in surprisingly creative (but still brutal) sequences – all while managing to avoid slipping into the torture-porn-esque subgenre the film derides.

That said, as the film steamrolls into the inevitable who-done-it revelation, it’s hard not feel as if the actual reveal falls a bit flat. Sure, the high-expectations come as a result of the shocking and innovative reveal in the original Scream; however, the reveal at the end of Scream 4 seems more concerned with serving as a precautionary tale about all-access Internet notoriety than a satisfying climax to the actual tension in the film (or resolution to the characters). Sure there are definitely some interesting twists but there’s no question that the last 15 minutes of Scream 4 drag-on, first bogged-down by the weight of the meta-narrative, and then abandoning the tightly-crafted storyline for a more-traditional and over-the-top final set-piece.

Neve Campbell returns as Sidney Prescott

In spite of the updated Scream 4 “remake” philosophy, the film itself rarely violates its own rules – and while that could lead to a somewhat disappointing set of act three revelations for some moviegoers, there’s little doubt most fans will enjoy the ride.

If you’ve already seen the film and want to talk about its details without ruining it for others, head over to Scream 4 spoilers discussion to chat about anything that could spoil the experience for those who haven’t seen it yet.

However, if you’re still on the fence about seeing Scream 4, check out our Scream Trilogy Primer to get caught-up on the series, then watch the official trailer below:

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Follow us on Twitter @benkendrick and @screenrant and let us know what you thought of the film.

Scream 4 is now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)