If the original Scream was a satire on slasher films and its next two parts spoofed their sequels, then Scream 4, being released 11 years after the trilogy was supposed to have concluded, is about the rebooting of old and tired franchises. And that can make it difficult to judge, as it’s hard to differentiate between shortcomings and satire.
The film opens fifteen years after the events of the first film, in the same town of Woodsboro, with the murder of a couple of high school students. It’s a very clever and self-deprecating opening scene, showcasing the franchise’s observant wit without allowing it to take over, and it’s one of the very best moments of the film. The next day, the original survivor – Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott – returns to the town to publicise her book, and gets caught up in the mess when incriminating evidence is found in the boot of her car. David Arquette and Courtney Cox also reprise their previous roles, the three of them hunting for answers as the goings on start to mirror those of the original Woodsboro murders.
The issues with the film all stem from the success of the originals. The three highest grossing slasher films of all time in the US are Scream, Scream 2 and Scream 3. When the three biggest films of the genre are the previous instalments of this one, it’s difficult for the makers to maintain the subversive tone that satire demands or even know what it is they’re supposed to be satirising. Nobody really makes slasher films any more. Aside from a couple of off-hand jokes, there is no real accounting for the evolution of horror and the rise of gore and found footage as genres. Scream 4 feels tired and out of ideas, reduced to living off the back of its former successes. In essence, the franchise has become exactly the film that the original Scream so cleverly deconstructed. That the idea to reboot the franchise came not from the creative side but a producer is no surprise.
If you enjoyed the original trilogy there is still something to enjoy here, if only for the nostalgia of seeing the core cast together on the big screen. There are moments when everything clicks and it really works, but overall it comes closer to the disappointment of the third than the genius of the first two.