You know, I have complained before about movies that wink too much to an audience of presumed horror fans, but Scream 4 takes it to a whole new level. In Roger Ebert's suprisingly positive review, he described the characters in the movie as being "preternatural in their detachment." Every character in the movie is so savvy and self aware, they become essentially audience surrogates commenting on themselves. They act so far removed from people genuine danger that the effect is disconcerting. The only person who is an actual character is poor, tormented Sidney Prescott.
I didn't really realize it until I watched this movie, but I think that Sidney Prescott is one of my favorite final girls of all time. She's definitely damaged from three encounters with film nerd serial killers, but she's got real steel in her spine. She stands up for herself, she fights back, but she never comes off as invincible or fearless. My favorite scene in the movie is the bit where her cousin's friend is being attacked next door and Sidney rushes out into the night to save her. Me, I'd be running the opposite damn direction. My only complaint with her is that I can't help but wonder why Sidney just doesn't leave town every time the killings start. Screwing with Sidney seems to be priority one with the Scream killers and leaving them derails their primary motivation.
I sat on the edge of my seat all through the movie, waiting for Sidney or Dewey or Gail to get it. It makes a mean sort of sense that the movie would bump them off to make way for the new generation. I was expecting it and I was really pissed about it. I came to realize that I really liked Scream's intrepid trio. Horror has very few memorable non-monster heroes and the trio didn't deserve to go out to service such a mediocre story (see: the death of Laurie Strode in that awful Halloween: Resurrection movie.)
Anyway, big spoilers here, Sidney's niece and one of the film nerds are the killer duo.
The film nerd is pretty dismissible. He's watched too many movies, can't tell the difference between right and wrong, and is snookered by his partner at the last minute. He's also got an incredibly slight frame and, like Sidney's cousin, it's very difficult to believe that they have the physical strength necessary to commit the murders.
Sidney's cousin is a much harder sell. Killer motivations in Scream movies are usually pretty lousy, but the idea that she is so enamored with Sidney's legacy that she's willing to kill her mother AND cousin to take her place is too farfetched. That's Hollywood-crazy, not real people crazy, and that's when the whole self-awareness thing stretches too far. It also doesn't help that she plays the final reel in histrionics worthy of a Justin Bieber crowd.
There's also one difference in the methodology of the new murderers: they're filming the killings as they take place, essentially making their own snuff film. This seems like a natural progression of the movie's themes, but ultimately very little is done with it. Scream movies exist in a very strange universe where the line between true crime and gory fantasy is very thin, and the public seems to crave more real world violence to happen so they can fictionalize and revel in it. I would have LOVED to see this played up more, but it's barely touched.
I get that Craven and Williamson were trying to comment on the remake craze sweeping through horror and the way that they do it is fairly clever, but the jokey self-referencing thing feels very 90s and stale. As I was watching the movie, I thought to myself that the only way to really reinvent the movie is to have a Ghostface with an entirely different motivation and voice. I want to see one who isn't playing to the camera, but one who is silent while his predecessors were chatty. There are still meat on dem bones, but not if they keep redoing the same thing over and over again.
I keep talking about the negatives of Scream 4, but ultimately I enjoyed watching it. Craven's movies are seldom bad and this one had enough wacky slasher antics to keep me entertained. It ultimately felt a bit disjointed. The film moved from set piece to set piece with little connecting them. It was fun to reunite with the heroic trio of Scream survivors and watch them beat up the two stupidest killers they've encountered yet, but it's not quite all there.
The big problem I had with Scream 4 was I'd just seen Insidious a week before. Scream 4 is basically fine and I don't feel cheated out of my money, but Insidious was a much more intense experience. Neither are particularly original films, but the raw craftsmanship and terrifying muscle behind Insidious won me over. It shaded my experience with Scream 4. I never jumped, never felt tense, and it never really got under my skin. It was fun to watch though.
Also, it ain't saying much, but Scream 4 was a lot better than Scream 3.