Any sequel worth its salt must prove itself by changing the game rather than regurgitating the same old mantra.
As rare as it is for any sequel to succeed in this regard, it is even more rare for a fourth film – which is why it seems like most franchises are rebooted before they get anywhere near number four.
Wes Craven’s “Scream 4” goes to great lengths to show that there are some grand exceptions to the rule of franchises overstaying their welcome.
Set on the 15th anniversary of the original Woodsboro Murders from “Scream,” Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns to her hometown after a national tour of her new book “Out of Darkness,” an autobiography which details her story.
The old group – from Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) to entertainment journalist Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox) – still live there, as well as Sidney’s young cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and Jill’s best friend Kirby (Hayden Panettiere).
Upon Sidney’s return, a series of traditionally gruesome murders bring the old gang back into action. But this time, things are different. New decade. New rules. So now, the group must join together to match wits with another psycho killer.
This time, even more so than ever, no one is safe and everyone is suspect.
Like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Zombieland,” this film delivers the scares and the laughs with equal care.
While we do see a story playing out like the original, this film is impressive in adding unpredictable originality to established cliché.
The greatest aspect of “Scream 4” is its ability to challenge every preconception we have. It challenges the main characters and audiences; we don’t know for sure who is safe from a knife to the chest. It challenges traditional gender and occupational horror stereotypes.
The film knows every idea we might have every step of the way and somehow – in a completely unpredictable way – does the exact opposite.
The cast that made the original trilogy such a fun ride returns with some welcomed additions. The three original characters – Sidney, Dewey and Gail – are played with veteran style while several newcomers take the reigns and stand with their heads held high amid the iconic actors they share the screen with.
Like most horrors, don’t expect the film to dig too much in adding additional depth to its many characters. A drawback of the genre is we never really get to care about the characters.
Sidney is the most developed. Since we last saw her, Sidney has become even more haunted by her own inescapable hell, which is portrayed with perfection by Campbell.
No matter what she does, she will always be that girl from Woodsboro who survived. The fame attached to the role has made her careworn and distant.
As we hear from another character, she’s waiting for her story to turn into “Final Destination.”
We get her. We like her. We want her to live. This is a huge kudos to Craven’s storytelling ability.
The genre self-awareness that the first “Scream” is known for is bigger and better here. What makes “Scream 4” so fascinating is that these characters have not only watched all the horror movies we have, but onscreen they’ve also watched three “Stab” films from the original trilogy. They know exactly what we do and think like we do.
Living through a horror movie isn’t quite as easy as it used to be, it seems.
While not as original as “Frailty” or as hilarious as “Zombieland,” “Scream 4” is a fun and intelligent horror that takes advantage of director Wes Craven’s sizable strengths: suspense, originality and dialogue.
If this is indeed the start of a new trilogy for Woodsboro and the Ghostface Killer, you’ll find me first in line for the sequel.
As it stands, it’s the first horror I’ve seen in theaters that’s actually worth every penny of the admission price.