“You forgot one thing about remakes: don’t [mess] with the original,” quips Neve Campbell’s battered and bruised character, Sidney Prescott, near the end of the newly arrived Scream 4, the latest big-screen instalment of the popular horror franchise. It’s an utterance so deeply appropriate for the film series itself that I couldn’t help but crack a smile upon its delivery.
Ever since the rise of Scream to cult-movie status, director Wes Craven, screenwriter Kevin Williamson and the cast of returning survivors have continually toyed with the original formula, releasing sequels that yield results so mixed it’s puzzling as to why they keep resurrecting Ghostface for more knife-causing bloodbath in Woodsboro.
In all fairness, Scream 4 does exude a bit of freshness (it runs with the hardly inventive tagline: New decade, New rules) and a solid, reasonably imaginative script from Williamson. But there’s nothing innovatively triumphant about it. What works in its favour: it’s briskly paced, twisty and fittingly suspenseful in keeping with the shroud of serial-killer mystery.
Ten years have elaspsed since the last dance so, understandably, much has changed in the lives of the main characters. Dewey Riley (David Arquette) has been promoted to Sheriff and shares his home with wife Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), now a former reporter in need of a new distraction. Alas, she doesn’t have to wait long as the return of Prescott (now a bestselling author promoting a memoir) to the small town eerily coincides with a fresh string of Ghostface-related murders. What a homecoming!
With the exception of a modern-day cyberspace element, it’s déjà vu for those familiar with the Scream movies when the police investigation into the killings grows frustratingly fruitless as the body count increases. And it’s fundamentally noteworthy that everyone is a suspect – or possible victim. That includes a crop of preppy teenagers from the local high school: Kirby (Hayden Panetierre), Charlie (Rory Culkin), Robbie (Erik Knudsen) and Jill (Emma Roberts), Sidney’s cousin. And then there are those hopeless cops played by Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody and the still-radiant Heather Graham.
Alongside blood-soaked scenes depicting the succession of gruesome murders, Scream 4 delivers quite a bit of humour, as though to make digestion of the gore that much easier. While many an audience will leave the theatre fully entertained and possibly satisfied, this new Scream is no landmark original. Not even close. It’s more or less a middling popcorn thrill ride.