Perhaps it's time Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson leave teen horrors to filmmakers who aren't so far-removed from the hallowed halls of high school, because despite featuring a constant stream of mobile phone blips, bleeps, and buzzes, Scream 4 feels about as clumsy as your grandfather trying to figure out how to send his first text message.
Touring the country in promotion of her new self-help book, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns to her hometown of Woodsboro and quickly reconnects with her old friend Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette), who has recently gotten married to Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). Though a much-welcome family reunion with her aunt Kate (Mary McDonnell) and cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) goes a long way in helping Sidney lay her tragic past to rest, old fears come back with a vengeance when Ghostface reappears on a murderous mission to make up for lost time.
Once upon a time, Craven was a filmmaker possessed of genuine inspiration -- inspiration to explore the contrasts between the traditional family unit and the post-nuclear family unit, to show us what the breakdown of society might look like, or to push the boundaries of consciousness and reality after reading a particularly disturbing news story. The only motivation that drives Scream 4 is to cash in on a familiar brand by reviving an irrelevant horror franchise. The kills in this superfluous sequel are limp; the characters faint echoes of those from the original; and the attempt at meta-humor so forced that it wouldn't be a surprise if Ghostface turned to the camera and winked after driving his stabby instrument of death through the heart of yet another magazine-glossy, irony-obsessed teen. Even the shock opening, with its Russian doll construct, is nothing more than a lazy repackaging of that old, overused dream-within-a-dream gimmick, albeit populated with characters who seem entirely self-aware about it -- as if Craven and Williamson are attempting to slyly let themselves off the hook for churning out precisely the sort of stereotypical celluloid rubbish they're openly mocking.
Gone is the maverick director who gave us the malformed mutants of The Hills Have Eyes and the horribly charred child killer of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and in his place has appeared a jovial hack who has become the very epitome of the system he once aimed to subvert. Perhaps it would be forgivable if Craven and Williamson actually played by their own rules, but by taking the lazy way out at nearly every turn they've made a movie that would have been relegated to on-demand obscurity save for the marquee names involved. Even the live webcast angle that plays so heavily into the plot of Scream 4 was already explored nearly a decade ago in Halloween: Resurrection, and since it's given little more than lip service here, it's barely worth mentioning. What is worth mentioning in detail, however, is the constant derision of "remakes" in a film that's nothing more than another lazy sequel. You can't have it both ways, Wes, and with producer credits on the remakes of Carnival of Souls, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Last House on the Left -- as well as a writing credit on the positively horrid U.S. remake of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's masterful Pulse -- it just sounds hypocritical when your characters start taking snarky shots at recycled genre classics.
Strangely, the one thing Craven and Williamson get right in Scream 4 is their scathing criticism of people's sense of self-entitlement in an era when fame-whoring reality television "stars" earn more money for 30 minutes of mediocrity than some teachers or nurses will see in their entire lifetimes. But that stinging moment doesn't come until the big revelation, which, strangely, is the film's single redeeming element. While most movie twists threaten to ruin every savory moment that came before the screenwriter begins tripping over himself in an attempt to blow our minds, the big reveal at the end of Scream 4 feels like the only truly honest moment of the entire film.
Sadly, the sharp climactic twist of Scream 4 is likely to send viewers away on a false high after being spoon-fed 90 minutes of lifeless, brain-dead slasher sludge. This is exactly the sort of thing that Craven and Williamson were satirizing in Scream -- the director's last true masterpiece -- and if he were driven by anything more than the desire to earn another fat paycheck, he would have laughed in the face of the studio suits who proposed this, and given us something to really lose sleep over.