Scream 4 Review: Welcome Back, Ghostface.

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You know the image of a worm eating its own tail? That’s sort of a metaphor for Scream 4. The film is a remake, a sequel and a movie about a movie, all in one. And with so many sly references to its predecessors, it’s hard to figure out where all the winking at the audience ends and the movie begins. That said, Scream 4 reunites all three main cast-members from the original films, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette, with director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson, and it’s still an enjoyable movie, no matter how meta it gets.

The film takes place in Woodsboro, California, hometown of Sidney Prescott (Campbell), the former high school student terrorized by the original Ghostface killer who murdered all of her friends in 1996. All grown-up Sidney is back in Woodsboro (although her haircut hasn’t changed) on a book tour at the insistence of her pushy publicist, Rebecca, played by Alison Brie, because she’s written a self-help book based on her past. And where better to promote a book about moving on than the town you desperately moved away from?

But you know who’s not psyched to see Sid? Gale Weathers (Cox), who went from reporter of small-town murders to successful novelist of the Stab books based on said small town murders, to housewife (she married Deputy Dewey, played by Arquette, who is now Sheriff Dewey) with writers block. Dewey, however, is thrilled to see Sid, which annoys Gale, but not as much as Deputy Judy (Marley Shelton) annoys Gale. Judy has the hots for Dewey real bad and she’s not very subtle about it. That’s roughly all there is to her character, so consider this your first and last meeting with Judy in this review. Sidney plans to stay with her Aunt Kate (Mary McDonnell) and cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) while in town, but of course, as soon as Sidney arrives, teens start getting gutted by the truckload. Rounding out the impressive supporting cast are an underused Adam Brody and Anthony Anderson as cops, Hayden Panettiere as Jill’s sass-talkin’ BFF Kirby, and Rory Culkin as horror-film buff Charlie. (Not to mention cameos from Shenae Grimes, Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell.) A large percentage of the people listed here get murdered, FYI.

It is completely impossible to watch the film and not consider everything that’s happened in the time since the first Scream film came out, on an entertainment level, a relationship level, and a technology level. Scream revolutionized horror parodies and gave way to schlock like Scary Movie (fun fact, Scream‘s original working title was actually Scary Movie), but in this remake (or “screamake” as they call it in the film), it becomes the corny sequel it once parodied, offering no new and exciting ways of killing off victims, and providing only one huge laugh line by our count.

Also, knowing that Cox and Arquette met and fell in love on the set of the first Scream and then dealt with a public separation after this sequel is just weird, especially given that they are constantly arguing throughout the film and he’s brushing off the advances of another woman. Truth, fiction, line officially blurred. To see them onscreen together is less fun when you know what their real history is, and that awkward, dissolving chemistry seems to translate onscreen. Then there’s the technology, used to this film’s advantage. Everyone in the film has an iPhone, making the “Who’s there?” aspect of evil phone calls more of a caller-ID inspired “Who is this calling me from Trevor’s phone?” Also, in today’s world, there a Ghostface voice app to make killing even easier (unless you constantly have to update it, amiright?). In this film, the idea that the killer films and uploads video of each murder adds a 2011 twist and, without saying too much, when the motive for the murders themselves is revealed, it’s for reasons that didn’t even exist in 1996.

The problem with this Scream movie is that it’s a Scream movie: We know too much about how they’re planned out by now. The We were constantly looking for the least likely killer, but one that would still make sense, and keeping our eye out for the hallmark twists the films are known for. That, coupled with laughs that were few and far between, made it a shadow of the first film, but that’s kind of the throughline of the film, actually. Cousin Jill feels like she lives in Sidney’s shadow, Gale and Dewey’s relationship has been overshadowed by Gale’s bitterness, not to mention that there’s an knockoff of a killer lurking in these shadows. We don’t mean to be overly critical because, as we said, the movie is enjoyable, it’s just competing with its own predecessor which set the bar for meta, referential horror so high.

This movie is like a double-edged, blood-covered buck knife: it knows what it needs to be (a funny horror sequel that’s just as good as the original), but it talks about itself too much instead of just BEING what it needs to be. But that’s okay, because the ending was left wide open in case they make another one…

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[Photos: Dimension Films]