Movie Review: Scream (Meta)4

It’s been 10 years since Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) ran from the infamous Ghostface slasher. She returns to her hometown of Woodsboro, on the anniversary of the murders that took place in the first Scream film, to promote her new self-help book. Ghostface re-appears almost immediately, slicing up teenagers left and right, and taunting both Sidney and Sidney’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts). While reporter-turned-writer Gale (Courtney Cox), now-sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and Dewey’s ambitious deputy (Marley Shelton) hunt for the killer, the suspects keep piling up. Is it the pretty, popular girl with a love of horror films (Hayden Panettiere)? Is it Jill’s can’t-move-on ex-boyfriend Trevor (Nico Tortorella)? Or is it the guy that makes those orchestral stab sounds that play when a character gets scared? (I bet it’s that guy.)

Film: Scream 4
Starring: Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courtney Cox, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Marley Shelton
Written by: Kevin Williamson
Directed by: Wes Craven
Genre: Horror, black comedy, slash-n-dash
Rating: 7 out of 10 / B



The original film in the Scream series was a mixture of horror and metatextual satire, with characters fully aware of the cliches of horror films, even while they were acting them out. Scream 2 did much the same thing, taking aim at horror movie sequels, while Scream 3 took a look at the making of a horror film based on the events of the first Scream. Scream 4‘s primary targets are horror film remakes and reboots, while the film itself is more of a reboot of the franchise than a proper sequel. If that’s not meta enough for you, there’s a bit with characters watching a movie featuring characters who are themselves watching a movie. 

In case you didn’t it get by now, the film is extremely aware of itself. Then again, that’s the whole point of the series and why the third film is the weakest of the franchise. Scream 4, when taken simply at its face value, is a by-the-numbers slasher. However, when you add Kevin Williamson‘s screenplay and Wes Craven‘s warped sense of humor, it becomes almost a dark (very dark) comedy. Williamson has rarely been accused of verisimilitude, but his words have never seemed more realistic, even if some scenes just resemble a long list of memorable quotes from the IMDB. Craven, for his part, delivers exactly the goods needed, although sometimes he delivers a bit too much. The camera lingers a bit too long on most of the murder victims after they meet their stabby ends, and it doesn’t seem clear if Craven’s doing it for shock value or to make a comment on the voyeuristic vibe that keeps slasher films in the money.

The cast is quite overstuffed, but this is a temporary problem that Ghostface quickly remedies. The returning actors—Campbell, Arquette and Cox—all play their parts well, although Cox sometimes seems a bit too shrill, even for Gale Weathers. Arquette has a very easy charm, and Shelton makes a fantastic partner for him. The endless line of potential victims—er, teenagers—vary in ability, but all of them are at least watchable. Roberts obviously gets the most time, although Jill’s a bit of a blank slate, while Panettiere has fewer scenes but has a clear and strong grasp on the sarcastic, flirty Kirby. She’s able to convey loads of character information in just a few line readings. 

The real charm of Scream 4, though, is its obvious self-awareness. Characters live and die by the rules of horror remakes. Cell phones and web cams are far more ubiquitous, for one, and nobody (not even a virgin) is safe. Of course, even when the characters are aware of the rules, it doesn’t stop most of them from running up the stairs or foolishly flinging the front door open. The meta level actually gets ratcheted up to a ridiculously high degree, a kind of mobius strip of references. Ghostface is recreating the murders from the movie Stab, the first in a series of seven, which was based on a book, which was based on the events of Scream, which was an homage and winking satire of classic slasher films. Got that? Even if you can’t follow the meta brick road, there are plenty of humorous asides and in-jokes. My favorite was…well, I probably shouldn’t say.



Sometimes, the film can wink too much at the audience, however. The meta-textualism is best when it’s an undercurrent to the scenes, but when it’s brought to the forefront continuously in a scene, it gets to be a bit too precious. Your mileage may vary, however, depending on your appreciation for film deconstruction. In the same vein, maybe you’re just here for the gruesome, bloody knife attacks (you sick puppy). You’ll get plenty of that, but the film sometimes seems like just a series of jumps and stabs. Even for a film nearly two hours long, there’s barely a plot.  The huge list of characters means that Ghostface is going to keep himself very busy making sure that story is sacrificed for the sake of thinning the cast.

While I did jump a few times, I was never truly scared, and I have a hard time calling Scream 4 a pure horror film. It’s also an extremely dark comedy, and it works well in either genre.  As reboots go, Scream 4 is a great start for a potential new trilogy, and a great deal more fun than Scream 3 ever was. It doesn’t always hit the vital organs, but it comes pretty close, and sometimes that’s all it takes.

JOHNNY M is a frequent FBOTU contributor and knows what you did last summer.<a href="; title="imageimage