“Scream 4” review

When you re-invent something by both satirizing and embodying it, how do you follow up on that? That’s been Wes Craven’s dilemma in the wake of his 1996 smash “Scream”. Being pretty much the undisputed master of American horror up to that point (See: “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise, “Hills Have Eyes”), Craven saw fit to both comment on and embrace all of the various clichés, characterizations and quirks of horror. Inevitably, it was a success; inevitably there were sequels and inevitably they were vastly inferior.

But the horror landscape has changed since Craven gave the franchise up in 2000. Reboots, remakes, re-imaginings…whatever you wish to call them, have permeated the genre. Horror’s never been more popular. It’s also never been more creatively and artistically barren. Either way, a new “Scream” feels appropriate, almost necessary. Enter “Scream 4”.

It maintains the same core trio from the original trilogy, the eternal survivor Sidney Prescott, the bumbling cop Dewey, and his wife, reporter Gale. It’s been ten years since their last attack from the (now-iconic) Ghostface Killer. Throughout the “Scream” franchise, the basic concept is that these three have to avoid a killer whose identity changes every movie, and who kills according to the basic guidelines of horror-movie-cliché. (For example, Ghostface won’t kill a virgin, as virgins tend not to die in horror movies. Et cetera.)

In “Scream 4”, the Ghostface Killer is after them again, but is also focusing on a new generation of prey: High-schoolers, one of which happens to be Sidney’s niece.  However, the rules by which these characters can survive the Ghostface have completely changed. In fact, probably  my favorite aspect of the entire film are the ways in which it sends up modern horror conventions. But this brings me back to ultimately the biggest issue that this movie has; the fact that it dumbs itself down for the audience so that, ironically enough, it can be understood on the same level of what it’s parodying.

Over the course of the franchise, the comedy has always been better executed than the horror. This is no exception. The whole cast is well-accustomed to the snappy, sassy dialogue; Hayden Panettiere particularly standing out as one of the teens in Ghostface’s sights. The horror aspect, however, is compromised a bit by the zippy pace the film carries. Moments that could have been horrifying are played without the proper execution to make it stick in one’s mind. Kind of like the rest of the film. C+

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