Retro Review: Scream 4


Tiger Media Network

(This review contains spoilers for “Scream 4” and the “Scream” franchise)

What’s your favorite scary movie? When actually considering this iconic line nowadays one might say Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” Ari Aster’s “Hereditary,” or Ti West’s “X.” Each generation has a plethora of excellent and iconic horror films that could be used as an answer to this question. “Psycho,” “Halloween,” “Alien,” “The Shining,” “Nightmare on Elm Street,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” “American Psycho,” “Saw,” “Insidious,” and more are among entries that come to mind from over the years. However, it is the 90s slasher film that produced the aforementioned piece of dialogue that I would give as my answer: Scream. Throughout my time writing film reviews for Tiger Media Network, I have examined every film in the Scream franchise (Scream, 2, 3, 5, and 6) except one. Penned by Original “Scream” screenwriter Kevin Williamson and the last installment by horror legend Wes Craven, Scream 4.

Gale meets Sidney’s Publicist

“Scream 4” was released more than a decade after the series’ last installment, “Scream 3”, a film that I had previously written, was the worst film in the franchise. Giving the franchise a significant break was beneficial as it gave time to revitalize interest in seeing Sidney and company return to the big screen. This also allowed the characters to age into new roles and problems. While Sidney establishes herself as an upcoming self-help author, Gale (who is now married to Sheriff Dewey) struggles with a bout of writer’s block with her new fiction writing ventures. When news that a new Ghostface killer is on the prowl, Gale becomes interested in uncovering the story. As for newcomers, a younger cast is introduced. Stand-out additions include Emma Roberts as Jill (Sidney’s cousin), Hayden Panettiere as Kirby (Jill’s best friend), and Deputy Judy Hicks (played by Marley Shelton). 

Let’s get some common criticisms out of the way with a brave yet controversial opinion: I like the “Scream 4” glow effect, and I don’t hate the opening of the film. The glow effect gives the film a mid-2000s look. Seeing pre “The Good Place” Kristen Bell and Lucy Hale of “Pretty Little Liars” fame adds to that vibe of the film as well. Here it feels like the 2000s is bleeding into the 2010s. The film has two prominent colors I made note of while rewatching various scenes. A yellow tint that sometimes veers a bit orange is used often throughout this film to great effect and is often saturated. It is frequently used in moments of great intensity and fear. This can be seen when Jill’s Neighbor Olivia is slain with her body laid out on a yellow comforter with yellow light. We see it again when Ghostface attacks Sidney’s publicist in a parking garage which is lit eerily by yellow lights that I wouldn’t want to walk under at night. Finally, we see it again when Gale is attacked while investigating the murders during the Stab-A-Thon party that takes place in a hay-filled barn. 

The second is a blue hue, which we see earlier in the film and towards the end. The blue lighting during the real opening kill, Gale’s iconic blue dress, Sidney’s blue cardigan she wears in the final act, and, of course, the blue palette of the hospital scenes at the end of the film. This use of color elevates the hospital as a set. It is a color I associate with another horror franchise from this decade, “Insidious.” That being said, it isn’t cold, but feels haunted. It especially feels this way when Jill is on screen. The slash marks on her face and her bloodshot eyes make Jill’s self-injured body appear possessed. 

Deputy Judy offers Sheriff Dewey her lemon squares

Historically, what has made “Scream” so appealing to fans is the characters. Among the newcomers, it is Jill and Kirby that stand out the most. This film feels like it was meant to set up Kirby to have more main focus in potential sequels. The character is like a fusion between qualities you would find in both Sidney and Randy from the original “Scream.” She is witty, emotionally compelling, and very well-acted. Hayden Panettiere plays an unsuspecting yet inevitable survivor who you root for while she plays the opposite of these killers, masked as her friends. While we eventually got her reappearance years later, I can’t help but feel we were robbed of more of her during this era. While Officer Judy Hicks gets some good comedy and eerie moments in darkly lit scenes, It is Jill that steals the show. Whether it is playing the opposite of Jamie Lee Curtis as Chanel Oberlin in “Scream Queens” or saying, “surprise b*tch, I bet you thought you’d seen the last of me” to Jessica Lange as Madison Montgomery in “American Horror Story Coven.” Emma Roberts serves shade, melodrama, and is a perfect foil to Horror Icons. Not only does Roberts portray the entitled Mastermind in a way that conveys a true threat, but also is hilarious in the delivery of one-liners from the simple “Hello Sidney, surprised?” To the well-paced “You just won’t die, will you? Who are you? Michael f*cking Myers?” While a lot of people refer to this film as being camp, I would say that it’s more melodrama and the ending of the film felt so eerie in the way it refers to Jill as an American hero.

While “Scream 4” wasn’t initially received with high ratings, It has accrued much deserved praise by fans over the years since its release. A lot of this can be attributed to the performances by both Roberts and Panettiere; however, the love for this installment has also grown as the returning cast was used excellently in this film. While Dewey is probably the least used among the veterans, his interactions with Gale and his heart-to-heart with Sidney are an excellent showing of his character. He is still bumbling, but with an air of maturity, David Arquette brings a welcomed sense of familiarity. The “Scream” franchise wouldn’t be the same without Gale Weathers. Like the best American Horror Story characters (i.e., Constance Langdon or Myrtle Snow), Gale is smart, entertainingly shady, and cunning. She is the most dynamic among the original survivor trio and she is the quickest to get back into the action. 

Kirby and Jill hang out with friends

Her interactions with the students, Deputy Judy, Dewey and Jill specifically toward the end demonstrate not only Courtney Cox’s range as an actress but also her understanding of who Gale is. Her scenes at the Stab-A-Thon looked stunning and demonstrated all the facets we love about Gale. Whether she’s shady, sweet, sleuthing, or surviving, Gale Weathers is a true final girl and icon we admire. Finally, Sidney Prescott is played and written in this movie at her strongest since the original. 

This is Sidney’s movie. Sidney in “Scream 4” feels like a fully self-actualized human. Rather than her past haunting her, she uses her wisdom to guide and take care of newcomers. Still, through Neve Campbell’s performance, the character realistically conveys fear, pain, and defiance. The character is not numb to the trauma in front of her but she doesn’t allow it to walk over her. Her best moments are Jill’s reveal scene, Kirby not letting Charlie in, and her final scenes in the hospital. However, I’m also partial to the scenes where she is trying to protect Jill either from seeing Olivia after she was attacked or when she acted as a diversion out on the roof of Kirby’s house. She is proud and a survivor. “She is an icon, she is a legend, and she is the moment, now, come on now.”

Don’t f*** with the original” – Sidney Prescott

“Scream 4” is among the best in the franchise. Its use of color and its iconic cast (newcomers and veterans alike) allow the film to feel like a fully fleshed-out sequel. Jill, Kirby, Gale, and Sidney were the best-portrayed and written characters in this film. The film is an excellent slasher and its melodrama allows for superb shady one-liners. No one in this film feels outshined or out of place. Overall, what makes Wes Craven’s last “Scream” film so special is how it blends fresh ideas while returning to its meta slasher roots seamlessly. It is among the best slasher sequels for its villains and heroes alike.

I give this film 10/10 masks for its characters, colorful imagery, and story.