Parody films as a whole are a mixed bag in terms of quality. Some, such as the "Scary Movie" franchise, turn all of the various tropes and cliches of a given film genre and spend an hour and a half or so spitting out dumb punchline after dumb punchline. Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson seem to have grasped this with their satirical "Scream" series, which is not just another horror movie parody but also a fine series of slasher movies in its own right. The latest entry in the series, "Scream 4," continues its mix of self-referential humor, taking it to an even greater level at points by going so far as to make fun of the "Scream" series itself. However, as clever and thrilling as this entry in the series is, it seems somewhat shallow in spots, and is likely not for everyone.
Each of the films in the "Scream" series parodies a different aspect of horror movies. The original "Scream" references horror movies in general, "Scream 2" parodies horror movie sequels, and "Scream 3" focuses mainly on trilogies. This entry in the series seems to be a parody on two fronts: on one hand, the film spends a great deal of time riffing on the various horror film remakes that have appeared in recent years. At the same time, the film also seems to make fun of the "Scream" franchise’s format from the very beginning, setting the stage for a cavalcade of what can really only be described as meta-meta-humor.
The film’s plot picks up 11 years after "Scream 3," with series heroine Sidney Prescott (played by Neve Campbell) finally emerging from a life of seclusion following the events of the previous film. Having written a self-help memoir on the ordeals she experienced, Sidney returns to her hometown of Woodsboro for a book signing on the anniversary of the fateful events of the first film. However, as Sidney returns to her hometown, a number of murders are committed by a killer posing as the series’ masked villain, Ghostface. Once again, Sidney and her fellow "Scream" survivors Dewey Riley, played by David Arquette ("Never Been Kissed") and his wife Gale Weathers, played by Courtney Cox (TV’s "Cougar Town") must fight to survive alongside a new group of victims, including Sidney’s cousin Jill, played by Emma Roberts ("Valentine’s Day") and her friend Kirby, played by Hayden Panettiere (TV’s "Heroes").
As mentioned, the film combines horror remake humor with self-deprecating metahumor in an eclectic way that is at times amusing and at others is tired, repetitive, and downright boring. The returning cast provides stellar performances, and Roberts is an interesting fit as Sidney’s cousin, but Panettiere’s performance seems a little lacking at times.
Despite the film’s shortcomings, however, it still manages to be a rather humorous commentary about the recent spree of bad horror remakes. At times this humor seems to go so far out of its way to emphasize the poor quality of these remakes that it ends up bringing the film down as a whole. Whether "Scream 4" is a film worth seeing is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. That said, audiences can expect to answer the one question that Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson have been asking for years: "What’s your favorite scary movie?"