Ten years have passed since the bloody havoc of the original “Scream,” and Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), the surviving heroine of three previous run-ins with the so-called Ghostface Killer, has returned home to promote her new self-help book. Can she avoid another bloodbath, or is she doomed to relive the nightmare?
Need you ask? Arriving more than a decade after the lackluster “Scream 3,” in which Wes Craven’s second juggernaut franchise (after the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series) seemed to run out of gas, the director’s fourth entry — another collaboration with original screenwriter Kevin Williamson — once again tweaks the conventions of the genre, poking fun at the “rules” of reboots and the recent spate of Hollywood remakes.
Just as surely as Sidney’s quest to elude Ghostface feels familiar even after an extended hiatus, so too do winking nods to movies like “Saw IV,” which have abandoned Williamson’s tongue-in-cheek approach and moved into graver territory.
At times, the self-awareness feels forced, a crutch the screenwriter leans on too often, but it’s a tribute to his versatility that he is able to put such a light spin on material so macabre.
Indeed, “Scream 4” is at least as gory as any of its predecessors, though rarely as gratuitous as some of the “torture porn” it satirizes. As always, the eviscerations are deliberately overblown — Craven goes for the jugular, earning his movie’s R rating — but the slicing and dicing is usually in good fun, an unapologetic concession to the first rule of sequels, that bigger is better.
But is it? In this case, yes. “Scream 4” doesn’t take the franchise in a new direction, though Craven and Williamson seem to enjoy toying with the latest fads, from Facebook and Twitter to an iPhone app that mimics Ghostface’s killer snarl.
It does, however, pay fitting homage to the spirit of the original, with an efficiently paced thriller that ties up its loose ends more convincingly than “Scream 3.”
Granted, it’s less suspenseful than sporadically jolting. And returning stars David Arquette and Courteney Cox are reduced to supporting roles, their characters — the hopelessly inept Deputy Dewey and cutthroat investigative reporter Gale Weathers — regrettably marginalized.
But those are minor complaints about a movie that tacitly acknowledges the silliness implicit in every frame and takes great pleasure in mocking itself and the fame-hungry attention-whores it happily skewers.
It’s exactly what a “Scream” sequel should be — fun, feisty and, after 11 years out of sight and mind, both refreshed and refreshing.
Starring Neve Campbell, Emma Roberts, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Rory Culkin
Written by Kevin Williamson
Directed by Wes Craven
Running time 1 hour 51 minutes