Release Date: April 15, 2011  
Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, language and some teen drinking)
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 111 min.
Director: Wes Craven
Actors: Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courtney Cox, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Alison Brie, Mary McDonnell

“One generation’s tragedy is the next one’s joke,” says a law officer in Scream 4. He’s talking about the way the film’s young characters handled a series of killings that happened earlier in their neighborhood, but the joke’s on the viewers.

The vast majority of any audience for a movie with a “4” in the title will be well acquainted with numbers “1” through “3,” so it’s safe to surmise they have returned for more of what those films delivered. In the case of Scream, that would be a masked killer called Ghostface and his growing group of victims.

But more than the killings and villain, what set Scream apart was winking references by the characters to how horror movies work. Characters knew the genre conventions and tried to skirt them as Ghostface closed in. By flattering its audience rather than insulting them, Scream earned a faithful following through three films.

It’s been more than a decade since Scream 3, and any notion that the deaths in these films might qualify as a tragedy has completely evaporated in Scream 4, which promotes such deaths as one big joke. Laugh as young women are stalked and stabbed. Guffaw when a police officer suffers a fatal head wound. It’s mass murder as entertainment, not meant to be taken seriously. You’re not permitted to feel offended. You know the rules, so play along.

Could it be that our intelligence, rather than being flattered, is being underestimated?

Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a survivor from the earlier Screams, is now a celebrated author. Her self-help book dealing with the traumatic events of her past brings her back to the town of Woodsboro, just as Ghostface resumes his killing spree. Sidney’s cousin, Jill (Emma Roberts), is among a group of young Woodsboro residents terrorized by the masked killer, as are two amateur filmmakers and numerous disposable teens.

Scream 4 follows the same route as its previous incarnations: a phone rings, a menacing voice on the other side threatens someone’s life, the person who answers tries to laugh it off and then panics as the killer draws near. This happens over and over again in Scream 4, and fans of the series who demand more of the same will love it.

Yet even within the confines of the distasteful Scream stories, there is no inventiveness in the new chapter. Those who delight in the Scream franchise’s post-modern nods to horror-movie tropes will take pleasure in the film’s tricky opening moments, which feature movie-within-a-movie gags centered on a gross-out series of films called Stab.

But director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson keep hammering away at the gag, wearing down viewers within 10 minutes of the film’s opening.

That stale quality permeates the rest of the film, which brings back Courtney Cox and David Arquette from the earlier Scream films. Those who want to see those characters one more time will get a wistful charge from Scream 4, but nostalgia—an odd emotion for a series of slasher films from the 1990s—isn’t a substitute for fresh ideas or inventiveness.

Scream 4 is, in a word, disgusting, reveling in different ways people can be terrorized and killed. It’s graphic and ugly, with no redeeming value.

That’s no joke; it’s a tragedy.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; high volume of “f”-words; “t-ts”; sexual innuendo; “a-s”; “da-n” and “go--ammit”; verbal threats of violence and death; “balls”; “gets laid”; “sh-t-faced”; suggestion that a character must be gay in order to survive a modern horror movie; a middle finger is extended; “circle jerk”; “b-tch.”
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Underage drinking in several scenes.
  • Sex/Nudity: Girl shown in bra, putting on night clothes; in a movie-within-movie clip, a woman takes off a robe, but only her upper back is seen.
  • Violence/Crime: Stabbing after stabbing after stabbing; (did I mention stabbings?); vivid bloodletting; gore in movie clips within Scream 4; dead body thrown off roof and onto a vehicle; woman falls through glass table; shootings; brawling; vomiting of blood.

Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@hotmail.com.