CONTAINS AS FEW SPOILERS AS POSSIBLE, BECAUSE HEY, IT'S SCREAM 4.
First let's get that idiotic title out of the way. It's Scream 4. It's not SCRE4M. How are you supposed to say that anyway? "Hello, could I have two tickets for the next showing of Screfourm?" doesn't even begin to make sense. Doubtless the sequel (and there WILL be a sequel) will be called 5CREAM, because that's the kind of nonsense marketing people get paid a lot of money to come up with. My local cinema even printed Scream 4 on the ticket. And Google returns 250,000 hits for Scre4m and 25 million hits for Scream 4, so the title you can actually say out loud is the winner. Regardless of what it says on the title card (which is the official arbiter of what a film is actually called), this movie is Scream 4, so please take your clever-clever post-Se7en alphanumerics and shove them up your arfivee.
It's ten years since the last movie, so rather than pick up from the end of Scream 3 and try and ignore the fact that everyone's wrinklier and/or has been at the pies, Scream 4 has also moved on ten years: in what was obviously a dumb move to start with, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns to her old home town of Woodsboro as part of her survivor self-help book tour: Dewey (David Arquette) is now the town sheriff, married to ex-reporter Gale (Courtney Cox). But on the anniversary of the original murders, the killings begin again, bloodier than ever before. And they appear to be patterned after the fictitious Stab movies which depict the events of the first Scream movies! Who's the killer? Or indeed, who's the next victim? Sidney's publicist? The disloyal boyfriend of her young cousin (Emma Roberts)? The perky deputy sheriff (Marley Shelton)? One of the film geeks at the high school? The best friend (Hayden Panettiere)?
Like the first three films, it's knowing and self-referential: this is a world in which everyone knows Halloween, Friday The 13th, Prom Night, A Nightmare On Elm Street and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but that knowledge doesn't help them survive their own "real" horror movies. Oddly it's a world which has all those movies in it but doesn't have the actual Scream films (though it does have Wes Craven), substituting the fake Stab series (supposedly directed by Robert Rodriguez!). Scream 4 even starts with a clip of Stab 7 in which two disposable hotties get bloodily dispatched while watching Stab 6 on video - a film in which two other disposable hotties get bloodily dispatched while watching Stab 5 on video..... Such mirrors-in-mirrors gags can get a mite tiresome fairly quickly.
So too does the desire for funny one-liners at a time when anyone could be brutally killed by anyone at any point. One character, viciously knifed, unable to see, collapses in the street but manages to come up with a snappy zinger about Bruce Willis for their final words on God's Earth. Frankly, in that position I'd still be struggling to unmask the maniac rather than indulge in quotable movie-related banter. I'm wondering how much of that is down to uncredited rewrites by Ehren Kruger rather than the original screenplay by Kevin Williamson. But then I'm amazed that so many people in Woodsboro think nothing of going to a horror movie marathon when there's a homicidal maniac on the loose killing people in the manner of the very movies they're watching....
Nor do I entirely buy the twisted rationale behind the murders, but at least they're no longer rooted in Sidney's mother's rampant sex life, though it still comes down to a whiny individual blaming Sidney for their miserable lot in life and murdering a bunch of innocent people with this pretty flimsy justification. Still, horror movies have never been noted for plausibility or serious character profundity (except rarely, with the very best ones). And as a horror movie - not as some kind of believable drama but as a creepy-jumpy scare machine, Scream 4 is perfectly okay. By my reckoning there are eleven kills in the movie (plus four in the Stab excerpts) and they're mostly pretty well done. If the screenplay is occasionally tortuous in getting all the characters to be exactly where they have to be for the jumps and kills to work, it mostly pays off because we are going with it - it is a Scream film, after all.
And on that level I did enjoy it. I watched the first three yesterday on DVD to catch up with who's who and who killed who where and when, and I think Scream 4 keeps the quality up to the level of the first two, and certainly to the third (which appears to be generally hated although I thought it was okay if wedged too firmly up its own cinematic bottom). It delivers the grisly goods efficiently, it has its three main characters doing their thing (though I found it even harder to warm to Courtney Cox this time out, and her charater is generally horrible throughout the first three anyway) and there are plenty of attractive girls and hunky guys as knife fodder. Strangely, despite being bloodier and in one scene gorier than the first three, the BBFC have only rated it 15 while the others remain at 18 (though the first two haven't been resubmitted for a long time), and I think this one should have been an 18 as well.
And, of course, it continues the up and down Craven "trajectory", following the atrocious My Soul To Take, a film that genuinely leaves you wondering how the hell it got financed. Scream 4 definitely has Craven back on his home territory and doing what he does best, and doing it perfectly well, but the odds do rather suggest that his next one will be a duffer. This would be a shame. But Scream 4 is a worthy entry in the series, keeping up the blood and bonkers motivations: it keeps you guessing, the jumps are nicely timed and it's very well shot and scored. Well worth the wait.