The cast is a hoot. Emma Roberts is charismatic and magnetic, perfect as the reboot star/secret villain (more on that in a sec). So many of the side characters are treasures, more memorable than anyone in 2 or 3: Rory Culkin as repressed B-tier AV club geek (and second secret villain), Adam Brody (aka Seth Cohen) as a rookie cop, Alison Brie as a slimy celebrity agent, the quadri-fecta of Lucy Hale, Shenae Grimes-Beech, Kristen Bell, and Anna Paquin as fake-out opening scene murder victims, and — best of all — Hayden Panettiere as the snotty but lovable best friend/film buff.
The movie leans into its meta elements more than any previous Scream movie, and executes them in a more interesting way. I loved the double fakeout opening as a clever riff on a well-worn trope of the series. And the toxic social media satire is even more potent a decade later in the era of TikTok and Instagram influencers.
The movie’s major twist, turning ostensible new heroine Emma Roberts into the villain, is one I like quite a bit. It takes what would be the tired route — revamping the series in Roberts’ image instead of Neve Campbell’s — and flips it on its head in the sickest way possible. There’s tons of dark comedy in Roberts staging her own near-death in the film’s climax.
There is certainly some narrative sloppiness along the way. I’m completely done with David Arquette’s Dewey at this point, and the hints at marital strife with Courtney Cox’s Gale don’t go anywhere. Some of the new characters get more definition than others, and the pacing isn’t as tight as I’d hoped. (The Scream series should embrace the 90 minute runtime; while the original‘s 110 minutes worked well enough, every one since has felt overlong.)
There’s also the matter of the photography, which is inexplicably ugly. It’s the bad kind of digital photography where everything has a slightly artificial sheen and color grading applied to it. In 2021, this is what we expect of streaming fodder (Scream-ing fodder?), not tentpole theatrical releases. It’s a slight nuisance, but doesn’t really dampen the movie too much.
Overall, Scream 4 is a horror movie that leans into its fun elements more often than not, and has some enjoyable satire, leading to a return to form for the series… one that has me sufficiently excited for Scream 5 in 2022.