Flick or Skip: Scream 4 (Opening 15 April 2011)

Scream has always been a hit or miss series for horror fans. Some genuinely enjoyed the meta approach to the slasher film, deconstructing the elements that scare us while still delivering those scares at the points we expected them. Others thought it was over the top and silly. The sequels that deconstructed how franchises work were even more polarizing. I don't think it's unfair to say that more people dislike Scream 3--the sequel that was all about the deconstruction of movie-set slashers--than like it. But now, those elements that were new or unusual are horror film mainstays. Series like Saw and Final Destination wouldn't exist without the self-referential standard of Scream. Is it possible that after an almost eleven year hiatus director Wes Craven strikes gold again with the fourth Scream? Let's try to figure that out with just the trailers.

I take it as a good sign that David Arquette, Courtney Cox, and Neve Campbell all returned for the film. This trailer puts all the focus on Sidney, which is when the series has been the strongest. Scream 3 played out more like an ensemble film rather than having the strong survivor-girl element that defined the original Scream. Sure, the original had a large cast, but focus went back to Sidney more often than not.

The large cast in this film seems promising. There are a lot of actors who have done solid work in horror before, including the returning stars. Kristen Bell has to have been mindful not to pick up a random bad horror script after the whole Pulse fiasco. Academy Award winner Anna Paquin is also in the film, though how big her role is has been hidden very well. Hayden Panettiere is playing out of character with a stuck-up perfectionist role; the ones the stretch the most are the ones who usually do the best in a slasher (like Drew Barrymore's iconic opening in Scream).

The tone seems just about right for a fourth film. The characters know all about what happened because of the film within the film conceit of the series. Sidney's story was turned into the Stab series of slasher films which led to the murders in Scream 3. The high school kids in the film reference all the POV work from shakycam horror, the attempt to rip apart the stereotypes ("virgins can die now") that other series beat them to, and the film promises more shocking violence than was allowed during the original run of the series.

There's always a "but" with horror, isn't there?

This trailer originally excited me. You see so much more of the attack style and how the game has been twisted. The tone is classic slasher, which hasn't been seen at the box office in a long time.

However, there are tiny little details that keep getting to me. In previous films, the victims have all been connected to Sidney. Is the connection just going to be Sidney sitting in on that classroom report? Or are we going to meet a whole bunch of relatives who crawl out of the woodwork to pick up the Ghostface torch? And what kind of small-town high school has already switched to all white boards and lets kids walk around with POV cameras running on their faces all day?

What about the police department in the film? They've never been the most competent, but not knowing about the Internet in 2011? There's a meta-awareness in the film that the only important surviving officer, Dewey, seems to not be a part of again. Is that going to play on some kind of generational divide ala A Nightmare on Elm Street or is it just going to be annoying? They've used his incompetence as a source of humor in the past films. Hopefully that scenes plays a lot smoother than it does in the trailer.

I have a feeling if you planned on seeing this film that nothing will stop you. I'm in the same boat. It's not that I feel ownership over the series or even a great loyalty; I just like the original so much. The second one was good, too, even if there wasn't much innovation. The third had its moments (mainly Parker Posey) that made it worthwhile. But this?

Well, at least the characters being focused on aren't nameless CW cast-offs. There has-beens, never-wases, or rising major network TV stars (and an Oscar winner). That's an improvement, right?