Taking place ten years after the events of the third Scream film, Scream 4 finds our heroine, Sidney Presscott (Neve Campbell) returning to her hometown of Woodsboro where the original murders took place. Now a successful author, Sidney is hoping to turn a new page in her life. However it is only a matter of time before Sidney’s presence causes the infamous “Ghostface Killer” to reemerge. Soon Sidney, her cousin Jill (Emma Roberts), Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette), his former reporter wife Gale (Courteney Cox) and the rest of the Woodsboro locals find themselves in grave danger.
Scream 4 is constantly aware that it must raise the bar and defy the audience’s expectations in order for it to be successful. Characters refer to how the rules have changed and everything will be bigger and more unpredictable. Yet for all its boasting, Scream 4 feels anything but daring. While it is nice to see Ghostface running wild again, there is not much in the film that has not been covered to death in the previous three films.
The major problem with Scream 4 is that it too focused on living in the past. A large portion of the film is essentially a reboot of the original film. The big difference is that the film features a new crop of young actors on the cusp of bigger things (e.g. Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Alison Brie, Erik Knudsen). Unfortunately the new cast of characters must fight for screen time as Williamson’s script spends the bulk of its time following the classic characters such as Sidney, Dewey, and Gale.
The inability to break away from the three alumni characters is what hurts the film. When the film reaches the point where the killer is revealed it feels very anticlimactic. While the reasoning behind the killers motivations are sound, the audience really does not get to know the killer all that well leading up to the final act. As a result the film feels hollow and rather forced.
If the film was actually willing to take the risk that it often boasts about taking, Scream 4 might have rivaled the first two Scream films. Yet at its best, Scream 4 is an improvement on Scream 3, but still nothing more than a shallow, and timid, copy of the original film.