Scream 4. Director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson have every cast member who lived through Screams 1 through 3, the same sets, the same Ghostface mask and the same sensibilities as the previous Scream movies... namely a knowing wink at the slasher movie genre. That’s the main problem; with so much sameness, including a really cobbled-together, by-the-numbers script by openly gay Williamson, Scream 4 feels like a nightmare you might have after falling asleep watching the original films, one in which people don’t act like real people, hospitals are completely empty of staff, and families of murder victims still live in the house where their loved ones were slaughtered.
The opening of Scream 4 is the best part, in which an oddly self-aware couple of sisters begin getting crank calls from a familiar prankster. There will be blood spilled, but whose blood, I won’t say. Suffice it to say that Kirsten Bell and Anna Paquin figure into the puzzle before the main feature begins. Williamson is still great with dialogue, having one nubile lass gag at the thought of watching “torture porn” like the Saw movies.
As the film settles in, we’re back in Woodsboro, where Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is ending her book tour for her self-help guide, "Out of Darkness". Gale and Dewey (Courtney Cox and David Arquette) are not-so-happily married; he’s the Sheriff and she is a creatively-blocked writer unable to escape the shadow of her True Crime books based on the events of Scream. Sidney’s Aunt Kate and Cousin Jill (Mary McDonnell and Emma Roberts) inexplicably live in the Prescott family murder house, but welcome Cousin Sidney back with wary arms, once bodies begin piling up. Jill’s pal even calls Sidney the Angel of Death. Much like Antonia on Top Chef, anyone around Sidney ends up on the chopping block.
Despite more clever dialogue, Scream 4 goes through its very familiar motions, including a new generation of Woodsboro teens clearly handpicked to echo previous victims like Jamie Kennedy’s film geek and Rose McGowan’s garage door-averse sexpot. The twisty ending holds together, but depends on too much implausibility to earn your respect. “The only way to survive a horror movie today is by being gay” is one of the new rules, spoken by someone who has clearly forgotten Single White Female and Copycat. I wish Scream 4 was better; all of the cast members are game (even when sent grocery shopping while a killer is loose) but they don’t behave like actual people. Why should we care? Especially when actual soulless killers from the 9/11 terrorists to Tucson shooter Jared Loughner have shown us what real evil looks like.
UPDATE: Scream 4 is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.