When I went to go check this out in theaters, it wasn't something I thought was gonna be that great. After all, I found 'Scream 3' to be a letdown, so how could a fourth installment, around eleven years later possibly be any good? Well, truth be told, I was pleasantly surprised at the time. But I think most of what made it good was that it was an unexpected surprise, considering the time it took to be released. It also stood out as something no one was really asking for, but were still pleased to get.
We start this one off in real-time, after the events of 'Scream 3'. The 'Stab' series within these films have reached the "out of control" point. They are not only up to 'Stab 7' but evidently, 'Stab 5' went as far as to introduce time travel to the plot. I see this as a bit of a nod to the moments when horror icons find themselves in outer space, like Jason or the Leprechaun. Furthermore, the film opens with this movie within a movie gag that frankly pokes fun at the 'Scream' franchise, itself. It's really quite humorously done, but it does eventually lead to the movie's first kill, and yet another Ghostface (or "Ghostfaces", as tends to be the case).
I tend to consider 'Scream 4' to be the beginning of the next generation, so to speak. This is where we bring in the new high school kids to be the potential victims, while still having our favourite characters take part in the story as the older, wiser generation. Surviving the events of the original films are Sidney (Neve Campbell), who has just published her own book on surviving the Woodsboro murders, Dewey (David Arquette), who's now the sheriff of Woodsboro and Gale (Courteney Cox), who is now married to Dewey and has since given up reporting.
Sidney returns to Woodsboro on the 16th anniversary of the original 'Scream' killings, and of course, to no one's surprise, finds that the killing has started all over again. This time, the big target seems to be Sidney's cousin, Jill (Emma Roberts), and her friends, Olivia and Kirby (Marielle Jaffe and Hayden Panettiere, respectively). This time, the killer seems to want to direct his own reboot, so this one is more of a farce on reboots. It even comes complete with funny little nods to Craven's own films being unnecessarily rebooted, like 'Elm Street', 'The Hills Have Eyes' and 'Last House on the Left'. One has to admire the little details put into the dialogue in these films.
When the killing starts, evidence is found in the trunk Sid and her publicist, Rebecca (Alison Brie) arrived in. They are then made to stay in town by Dewey, himself until the killer is caught because pretty much "everyone is a suspect". On that note, I appreciated that the film really kept you guessing as to who was doing the killings. Is it Jill's ex-boyfriend, Trevor (Nico Tortorella) who is leaving threatening messages?; is it Dewey's new, somewhat creepy deputy, Judy (Marley Shelton)?; is it one or both of the film-obsessed geeks, Robbie and/or Charlie (Erik Knudsen and Rory Culkin, respectively)? Or could it possibly even be an original "cast member" (Sidney, Dewey or Gale?) There are red herrings all over this movie, and I have to admit, I kind of appreciated that.
A lot of this does, however, still just feel like more of the same. Once again, there's a standard set of rules here, this time concerning the "reboot". But for once, there are more than three. 1, don't mess with the original; 2, death scenes are more extreme (similar to 'Scream 2'); 3, "unexpected" is the new cliché; 4, virgins can die now; 5, new technology is used and integral to the plot; 6, an opening sequence is necessary; and last but not least, 7, in order to survive these days, you pretty much have to be gay. I'm not entirely sure why they needed so many this time around, or why some of them are essentially repeats (like rule #2) or seemingly unnecessary (like rule #6).
Going back to what I said about being pleasantly surprised when this came out, I should say that most of that pleasant surprise came from getting a little nostalgia from it as well as not really knowing it was something I wanted to see until after it was done. This wasn't like 'Freddy vs Jason' where audiences were waiting impatiently for about the same amount of time. When this came out, it was more like "Oh neat, this could be fun." And indeed, "fun" was what I got from this. It was a good long-time-coming sequel that seemed to understand what it was, and gave us just enough nostalgia while being something new and bringing Ghostface back for more thrills and kills for a whole new generation.