Rarely does a fourth film live up to its franchise, but Scream 4 has Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson, who wrote the first two installments, to thank for in bringing a lot more to the table through this film than if it were to end in a trilogy, since Ehren Kruger's story in that one is the weakest of the lot. So instead of ending the franchise with a whimper, this takes it back to a roar, and doing so also by reuniting members of the original cast in Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox.
It is some 15 years since the first Woodsbro massacre, and the town is geared up for the return of Sidney Prescott (Campbell) who is doing a homecoming of sorts in a new career as a writer, sharing her experience through an inspirational book. But to welcome her back is a series of murders purported by yet another Ghostface, though this time round this serial killer seems a little more savvy, edgy, and clearly a lot more psychopathic in wanting to get rid of Sidney's loved ones, and then some. Joining the fray and as fodder for Ghostface include the return of Dewey Riley (Arquette), now Sheriff, his wife Gale Weathers-Riley (Courtney Cox) who is now at a loss of a crossroads in her life without much meaning since Sidney and Ghostface have been dormant, Sidney's cousin Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts), her ex boyfriend Trevor (Nico Tortorella) and her best friend Kriby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) a horror movie junkie, as well as nerds Charlie Walker (Rory Culkin) and Robbie Mercer (Erik Knudsen) who started Stabathon and into its third season.
You may remember the Stab films, which is the film within the film in Scream that adapts the murders, and the opening sequence of Scream 4 is rather fun as it pokes fun and almost self- parodies itself. And this is where it provided opportunities as a launchpad for the filmmakers to lampoon the recent Hollywood trend of torture porn films (will surely get some Saw film fans up in arms), and to criticize the numerous reboots and remakes especially in the horror genre. Trivia pursuit in the horror genre also becomes the order of the day since there are a number of nerdy characters here who preach about the merits and patterns formed in modern day horror stories, and every moment where it can reference other films, or the genre, Williamson's story exploits and takes full advantage of that, as well as digging deep and going back to the first film as a loop-back of sorts since the new killer seemed to have followed the pattern as seen in the original.
To say anything more would mean to spoil the story and its surprises along the way, but do bear in mind that while Scream 4 tries hard to reinvent itself yet stay relevantly formulaic to its established rules, there are some consistencies that cannot fail to go away, such as how gung ho Sidney Prescott can really be in fending off Ghostface as compared to other smaller, more unfortunate characters, and how the cops always seem to caught flat footed and not arrive until the show's over. Rules get revisited thanks to the a pause in the narrative to run through how things have got updated in today's world, and what would seem like a stinging commentary on youths of today, having the mindset of instant gratification and adopting shortcuts to success in wanting to emulate their heroes rather than to go through the school of hard knocks.
While Wes Craven doesn't direct anything too fanciful in the film to allow the story to shine, after all he did exclaim he'll only be back if the story's up to mark, I have to confess that he still possesses the knack for crating moments to make you jump at your seat or to make your heart skip a beat even though you know something's peering and expected around the corner. With the right material such as this one on hand, he again shows why he's quite up there as masters of the genre, and what made this a lot more meaningful is the return of the original principal cast members to guide the newcomers through, even though they look visibly aged, in line with the characters they play in real time, being idols that are looked up to, from Dewey the Sheriff and his female deputy Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton) to provide for some tension with his wife Gale, Gale herself being idolized by Sidney's publicist (Alison Brie), and needless to say Sidney Prescott being the celebrity that she is to have stood up against multiple versions of Ghostface.
Scream 4 will be a definite treat especially for those who have followed the series right from the start. There are plenty of references and Easter eggs here pertaining to the earlier installments, so the challenge here is to try and spot them all in one sitting, which contributes to the fun. Those who have not acquainted yourself to the Scream trilogy will fare better if you spend some time dipping into the older films so that you can get to enjoy this one at a much deeper level. As I mentioned, rarely does a fourth film live up to the expectations set by the first, and continuing with that level of confidence that it will not be the worst film of the lot, and Scream 4 satisfies on both accounts. A surefire recommendation for Scream fans to wipe that bad aftertaste of Scream 3, and a worthy finale (if it ends here) to the franchise.