Watching Scream 4 for the first time, particularly in the early 2010s, was like trying out a new trendy brunch place — there’s a bunch of stuff on the menu you don’t quite ‘get’, you miss your trusty comfort foods, there are lots of beanies, and it feels as if it’s trying a little too hard.
Lots of people, Scream fans included, did not care for it one iota. It does, however, have the best Ghostface to date, and that’s all due to the movie’s desire to lean into the musings, with or without judgement, of young genre enthusiasts.
The slasher movie begins with a cold open in traditional Scream fashion — Ghostface stalks and kills famous faces relevant at the time of the movie’s release. In the original, it was the famous Drew Barrymore twist; in Scream 2, Jada Pinkett Smith and Omar Epps have the worst night out at the movies ever before Buffy’s Sarah Michelle Gellar bites it later on. And Scream 3 went meta-inception on us by killing off returning Scream cast member Liev Schreiber.
Scream 4’s opening… was for the girls (and the guys who appreciate ropey TV series aimed at young women). Lucy Hale from Pretty Little Liars, Anna Paquin from True Blood, Kristen Bell aka Veronica Mars, Britt Robertson of one-season-wonder The Secret Circle fame, Shenae Grimes-Beech from the rebooted 90210… you get the cast picture.
We are introduced to a pair of teenage girls watching a horror movie, poking fun at its pitfalls. They, of course, are attacked. Hold on, though, turns out those girls were just from a movie two other girls were watching… rinse and repeat until we’ve maimed or killed everyone.
It was as if screenwriter Kevin Williamson and horror movies master Wes Craven took a trip through the minds of teenage girls and plucked out every female up-and-comer occupying space in our brains. In the same way young adults in the 90s ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ at Barrymore, if you watched any teen series of that era, your mouth was on the floor after seeing Ghostface mop the floor with the next generation of CW talent.
After the first slasher in 1996, Scream 4 has hands down the best opening kills with fakeouts and enough meta-commentary to make you ill. If you get it, you get it, and if you don’t, you don’t. Yes, you can feel the reach of these two older men straining to connect with the younger minds who were watching teen movies in 2011, but now that we’re removed from it by over a decade, boyo does it work as a time capsule, similarly to the rest of the horror series.
Another debated topic of Scream 4 is the killer reveal. This entry had two of them — icon-at-the-time Emma Roberts as Sidney Prescott’s niece, Jill, who we’ve somehow never heard of before (camp), and Rory Culkin’s weirdo fanboy Charlie. We won’t be discussing the latter in class today because, frankly, he’s not as fun as the former, sorry Rory.
Scream fans have different opinions about what makes a Ghostface choice good or bad; it’s one of the exciting things about their community. But this fan thinks Jill is actually the best one we’ve had so far. Point kitchen knives at your screens if you’d like, but in the pantheon of killer reveals, the hammy insanity of Jill’s motives and Roberts’ iffy performance make it absolutely delicious.
2011 was the year American Horror Story premiered, so Roberts had not yet been introduced to the world in an R-rated role. The fact she had mostly been known for silly comedy movies like Hotel for Dogs, Aquamarine, and her cinematic masterpiece Wild Child, makes Scream 4’s ending so much better.
In the third act, Jill, who has been moaning and shedding tears over her victimisation for the entire running time, rams a knife into her shoulder, WWE-style drops herself through a coffee table, and scratches herself up to frame Sidney, who has never done anything wrong in her life, simply because she wants to be the main character.
At the time, this felt a bit far-stretched. We perhaps had not seen Sofia Coppola’s equally underrated The Bling Ring, been introduced to influencers, or lived in our present world where clicks are everything. This particular sequence is jaw-dropping and hilarious because Jill is bananas in a way even Billy and Stu couldn’t hope to compete with.
You may argue that this silliness undercuts the movie at large, but Scream has always been slightly silly due to the way it satirises other slashers. Sidney having to fend off her feral teenage niece is brutal in a way that pierces through that campier tone when you truly consider what that character has been through.
After Jill is melodramatically wheeled into a hospital on a stretcher, she makes a last attempt on Sidney’s life to secure the survivor book deal bag. But with the help of Gale, Sidney wins – as she should. One of the final moments of the movie sees Sidney lying on the floor, parallel to a dying Jill. Somehow, Craven and the movie’s score inject a genuine sense of tragedy in an otherwise ludicrous scenario. It’s quick, but it’s there. And you want me to say Jill wasn’t a stellar choice?!
If you think back on Scream 4 sourly and haven’t seen it since its initial release, consider revisiting it through the lens of the 2020s, and how we’ve come to appreciate absurdity as modern audiences. Maybe you’ll still hate it, but at least you’ll get to see Kirby, and she’s the best. We can, at the very least, agree on that.
For more bloody murder, read our Scream 6 review, find out how to watch Scream 6, watch the Scream movies in order, and discover the answer to will Stu Macher be in Scream 6? Or, see our list of all the new movies coming soon.