It’s been roughly 10 years since the last time we’ve been assaulted by the Ghostface Killer. And the long hiatus hasn’t resulted in a new and inventive story. Clearly, writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven have tired and run out of ideas for the whimsical, self-aware characters they created back in 1996. Sadly, “Scream 4” is a flat and scantly entertaining retread worth watching only to see the three main survivors geek on one another. Sadder still is that the original fan-base will not find fun in the banter meant to pass as a strained attempt at comic relief.
The action returns to Woodsboro. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) has finally written a book about her experiences chronicled in the first 3 movies. And partly as a PR stunt, Sidney agrees to make a trip to Woodsboro on the book tour for the best seller. Of course, a new killer has assumed the Ghostface mask and intends to capitalize on the Sidney’s homecoming. That means that a bloody high body count is assured.
Once in Woodsboro, Sidney is reunited with deputy, now Sheriff, Dewey Riley (David Arquette), who has married former reporter Gale Weathers-Riley (Courteney Cox). Gale made a name for herself by dramatically telling the stories of the first three movies in novel form. Those books were then turned into slasher movies aptly titled the “Stab” series. And while the principal and unpleasant origin story takes place in Woodsboro, the town’s kids have endorsed the history finding a certain perverse coolness in the distinction. We’re introduced to a whole new generation of potential victims led by Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts), Sidney’s niece. If you remember the original film, everyone is a suspect and no one is safe. This time around tension is sought by taking no one off the killer’s menu. Not even Sidney is protected from the knife. In time, the bodies stack up and Ghostface is once again on a rampage. But can Sidney, Dewey, and Gale stop arguing with one another long enough to stop the killer before one of them becomes the next victim?
Does my summary sound like fun? Well, it certainly ought to be. And Kevin Williamson, the writer of the original and the first sequel, slashes about broadly trying hard to inject new blood into a dead franchise. This means that we get streaming Internet video and exhausting references to horror movies new and old. One in-joke is that many of the horror movie references are to Wes Craven’s work. But instead of drawing on decades of slasher movies and delivering a fresh twist, Williamson is content relying on pale imitation. There are few surprises to be had and even fewer intense and dare I say scream worthy moments.
Perhaps there is a fascination value seeing Arquette and Cox, who are separated in real life, together on screen. But given the script that surrounds them, it is a shame that they couldn’t have found a better project to make their last. Neve Campbell walks through her role still managing a watery-eyed concerned look, but as sincere as she is, she can’t make us care about what’s going on. And that’s because we don’t believe it. Ironically, for a film this self-aware, “Scream 4” fails to use the once clever conceit that everyone is taking part in a horror movie to throw us off long enough to scare us. And from the opening sequences, we quickly realize that this sequel is less about frightening viewers and more about trying to make them laugh. Unfortunately, the laughs are as lame as the late 30s and early 40-something original cast members trying to relate to hipster teens. It just doesn’t work.
“Scream 4” is one sequel to miss.