More than ten years after the release of what was billed as the final film in the Scream “trilogy,” Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson revisit the Woodsboro gang in Scream 4. And as excited as I was to see what Sid and the gang were up to, I couldn’t help but wonder: is it too late for another Scream movie?
Answer: maybe. Eleven years is a long time. And like Sidney at the end of Scream 3, believing that it truly was the “final act” (as billed), many fans have moved on. So, despite the return of original writer, Kevin Williamson, fans of the franchise might be put off by this latest sequel, finding it disingenuous. But I assure you, it’s not just about the money . . . not entirely. Everyone involved seems genuinely enthusiastic about the material. And while it might be too little-too late to be as big a draw as it was eleven years ago, the Scream series is still fun.
Believing the days of the Ghostface Killer are behind them, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) have moved on with their lives. Gale and Dewey are married. Dewey is the Sheriff of Woodsboro. And Gale is suffering from writer’s bloc, which is exacerbated by the fact that Sidney is back in the limelight, after writing a self-help book based on her ordeals.
The last stop on Sidney’s book tour, Woodsboro . . . on the 15th anniversary of the original Woodsboro massacre (talk about bad timing). If only Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) were still around to tell her that this was piss-poor planning on her part.
Right on cue, Ghostface returns with a vengeance, but this time he seems to be more interested in killing everyone around Sidney, particularly her cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and her high school friends. Ushering in a new era (and a new audience), Gale and Sidney seek the insight of the next generation of horror movie geeks, cousin Jill’s friends Robbie (Erik Knudsen), Charlie (Rory Culkin), and Kirby (Hayden Panettiere). With a new set of rules and new cast of nubile young teens, Ghostface yet again wreaks havoc on Woodsboro. Who will survive this time?
More importantly, who is the main character of Scream 4? As much as I’d like it to be Sidney, here she’s more like a secondary character than the lead, like a cleanup hitter, saved for the end to wrap everything up. The majority of the film is spent with the newer, younger characters, and they’re not half bad. The cast as a whole is actually pretty good, each in their own right. But, there just seems to be too many people.
For me, Scream 4 lacks focus. We move around too much, between too many characters, and in service of nothing more than killer-filler. It seems that Scream 4 suffers from what I call “the Apatow effect,” whereby a large group of funny actors produce a surplus of funny scenes, which–while funny–aren’t entirely necessary to the plot, thus leading to a bloated, meandering movie. Exacerbating things, in spite of obvious attempts to reconcile the original cast with the teen cast, there’s an incongruous feeling that’s hard to ignore.
Still, there are some great moments. In the wake of Neve Campbell’s frequent absence, Hayden Panettiere steals the show. As Kirby, the sexy horror movie buff, she is my favorite of the teen characters. She’s genuinely funny, with her wry witty banter, and she’s the least painfully meta of the movie geeks.
Which brings me to my main point of contention, Scream 4 is far too full of itself. It is bursting at the seams with meta references, proving that there can be too much of a good thing. Not only is Scream 4 painfully meta at times, but it is actively commenting on its own meta-ness with conversations about meta film conventions. There are points in the movie where I wanted to yell, “Get on with it!”
So, a far cry from the original Scream, but a bit more faithful than Ehren Kruger’s Scream 3, Craven and Williamson pack in enough scares, gore and laughs to make Scream 4 a passable addition to the Scream series. A little light on Neve Campbell, even though she still kicks ass; a little heavy on the meta conversations (seriously, it’s almost masturbatory how much they talk about being meta).