The Scream series has always been meta. The first film had the movie geek who explained the “rules” of the slasher genre as the teens found themselves living inside a slasher-esque killing spree. Scream 2 introduced the “Stab” film series, the Scream-like franchise within the Scream franchise. Scream 3 was more of the same. So it’s no surprise that Scream 4 continues the trend. The film pokes fun at itself for being a late installment in the series and claims it has done it all before, that there are no surprises left. In fact, the movie opens with this dilemma in the guise of a scene from one of the Stab movies, which is, of course, intended to surprise the viewer. The opening contains a few more surprises, setting the pace and letting the audience know that the team of Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven still has a few tricks up their sleeves.
Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is back in Woodsboro (the site of the murders in Scream) to promote her book. Her return coincides with the 15th anniversary of the events in the first Scream. Also back in Woodsboro is a killer, fashioning his kills to mimic those of the original Woodsboro murders. Unable to escape her past, Sydney lives with her aunt and her cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) as the police keep surveillance over the premises. Jill is in high school and seems to be the target of the killer, just as Sydney was 15 years ago.
Aside from the sub-par Scream 3, Kevin Williamson penned all of the Wes Craven directed Scream titles. Like the brilliant Scream and the enjoyable Scream 2, the latest installment is a worthy addition to the series. The self-referencing hits new highs, which will probably annoy some and delight others. The original Scream, at this point, is almost what Halloween (1978) was to its generation, Craven and Williamson know this. The film attempts to do for the franchise precisely what Scream did for the nearly dead slasher genre when it was first released, resurrect it. For the most part, the duo succeeds. Don’t expect this film to usher in a new generation of slasher movies like the original did, the film isn’t smart enough to do that. Even though it feels fresh, the movie is locked in Woodsboro, and Woodsboro’s heyday was in 1996.
The main challenge facing Williamson this time around was creating a fresh addition to the series. However, times have changed quite a bit since 1996. Cell phones are a normal part of everyday life now. The landline telephones that played such a major role in the original are now obsolete when concerning high school teenagers. Smart phones didn’t even exist back then. The killers used to use a separate device to act as a voice changer, now they have an app on their phones. The internet back then was slow and faulty, now one of the students at Woodsboro video documents his entire high school experience on his blog. It’s no surprise that Williamson decides to have the new killers use webcams and various other new technology.
With this new technology, the film explains the “new rules” of the slasher genre: the new expectations of a killer. However, like the “new” events in the movie, mostly everything done here has been done in the other films. Scream 4 falls somewhere between re-make and sequel, as the killers in the movie mimic the killings from the first Scream. Many scenes feel familiar (usually in a good way), and more often than not they take unexpected twists, which are very much expected in the series.
Anyone looking for a shriek-filled night should look no further. The film will keep even the biggest slasher nerds guessing until the end. Like the other films in the series, this one is fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Though not nearly as groundbreaking as the original, Scream 4 is a welcome installment to the series.