The latest in Wes Craven's horror franchise works in a new generational mix of actors, but Neve Campbell too often seems stranded with little to do until the climax.
A scattering of amusing bits and clever twists can't forestall the terminal self-deconstruction that dominates Scre4m. After an 11-year slumber, Ghostface returns to action, along with the principal creative team and key lead actors, and unsurprisingly goes into overdrive to make up for lost time. But the film very quickly, and tediously, becomes more of the same old and Craven thing—self-referential film buff gags accompanied by a clockwork killing spree that seriously reduces the population of a small town. Strong anticipation by series fans and a high body count all but guarantee an opening weekend box office killing, followed by fairly rapid theatrical fall-off and robust home viewing life.
Fifteen years after her first encounter with the taunting, black-hooded, anguished-faced knife freak, Neve Campbell's Sidney Prescott returns to Woodsboro (represented now by an amalgam of towns in Michigan) to promote her book Out of Darkness, which purports to express her coming to terms with the dreadful ordeals she survived and are now presumably safely in the past. With the town square festooned with the ghoul's likeness hanging from every lamppost, her celebrity is not lost on Ghostface, who's sufficiently inspired by her homecoming to sharpen his blades and further extend an already considerable reputation.
However, this can't happen until director Wes Craven and series originator and screenwriter Kevin Williamson set the teasing tone by sampling some of the seven legendary “Stab” movies inspired by the town's real-life murders. The creep's pattern remains more or less the same: Taunting verbal abuse to nubile high school girls over the phone, sometimes climaxed by the phrase, “This is the last person you'll ever gonna see alive.”
This time the trio of most likely suspects includes Sidney's cousin Jill (Emma Roberts), who fawns over her famous relative, and her friends Olivia (Marielle Jaffe) and Kirby (Hayden Panettiere), the latter being the hottest film nerd ever seen onscreen, even if the lively actress playing her looks to be covered in an alarming oversupply of orange suntan spray.
Back for more are Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers, the author who sees the new killing spree as a chance to bust out of her severe writer's bloc, a depression that might be connected to the fact that she's married to the sweatily incompetent Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette), who's never where he needs to be at the right time.
Individual scenes have passing energy and jokiness, even if nearly all of the latter is highly insular in the way it self-consciously references horror genre tropes and the series' own history. But the narrative doesn't build the way it should in a good suspense film; just as it seems that the climax has arrived in a big Stab-A-Thon night at which dozens of horror geeks have congregated to watch the series while Ghostface is on a new tear through town, the film downshifts as it prepares to string out the last series of murders as long as it can before the final revelations (not bad) about who's behind the mask this time and why.
At 111 minutes, this goes on far too long for its own good but, then, the previous three did too, so hardcore fans won't mind. The generational mix of actors works well enough, although Campbell too often seems stranded with little to do until the climax.