Instead the context Scream 4 found itself in was almost as bleak as the dark genre moment the original Scream tore down in 1996. In 2011, horror was the stuff of aforementioned torture porn and cynical, soulless remakes of all the horror classics from the 1970s and ‘80s, including many originated by Craven. Whereas the slasher genre was long in the tooth when Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson first deconstructed it with affection via 1996’s Scream, it had circled back to a Sisyphean repetition in 2011—an endless sea of remakes and retreads, none yet realizing there was more money to be had by getting the cast of the original back to bless “the next generation” in a torch-passing sequel. In ’96, Craven and Williamson’s hyper-articulate smartass teens revived the genre with meta-textual humor and self-awareness. Scream 4 had less success in its day, even though it plays sharper than ever as satire in 2022.
Before Han Solo ever said “Chewie, we’re home,” or a collection of Spider-Mans pointed at each other in shock, Scream 4 ditched the idea of doing a straight-ahead remake/reboot and instead returned to the original film’s Woodsboro 15 years later with Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). She’s older and wiser now—an author, in point of fact, with a book to sell. The naïveté she lost since the original film has been replaced with a hard-won wisdom and battle-ready acceptance of living a life inside a horror movie. When she discovers a neighbor is being slaughtered by a resurgent Ghostface copycat killer, she runs across the yard into danger, beating the cops into the fray instead of waiting for her phone to ring.
When the film begins, this is all taken for granted. She, alongside the returning Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), are the old guard, the ostensible mentors who we think are going to lead our new generation of protagonists through the trials and tribulations of surviving a Scream movie. Perhaps that’s why some critics were turned off by the first half of Scream 4, which beyond its deliciously self-deprecating opening sequence is most satisfied with seemingly going through the motions and introducing us to what have all become archetypes within the franchise: the sketchy boyfriend (Nico Tortorella), the movie-obsessed nerd, Charlie (Rory Culkin), and the ineffectual deputy with a crush (Mary Shelton).
Even Sidney appears to have her replacement waiting in the wings with an obvious new franchise lead introduced by way of Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts), the young final girl-ready cousin we never previously knew Sidney had. The one exception to this is Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby Reed, a charismatic and lively new player who was both a popular high schooler and also an unabashed horror hipster. Maybe this was commentary about how nerdiness had become cool in the interceding 15 years—or just a chance to have a real replacement for Jamie Kennedy’s Randy Meeks from the first two movies. Also like Randy, her death hurt.
Otherwise though, this class of Woodsboro High: The Next Generation looks a lot like the cast of a horror remake from the late 2000s: inferior copies who are largely disposable. But then comes the third act, and a climax which makes Scream 4 one of the best slasher movies in its decade.
After chases have been had and plenty of blood spilled—in fact more blood than in the original Scream trilogy after the MPAA relaxed a little—it’s time for the killers to be revealed and motives explained. It’s here where Scream 4 elevates itself from being a simple exercise in ‘90s nostalgia and becomes something vital.
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