Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Film reviews: Scream 4 (2011)

There's a fun moment in Scream 4 where a young, ambitious publicist encounters the once-powerful media juggernaut Gale Weathers, embarrassingly fawning over her and granting her the back-handed compliment of "You were my '90s". It's a feeling I'm familiar with, since the Scream franchise was truly the first series of movies I was ever really obsessed with. I don't know if it was the attractive stars, the iconic imagery of the Ghostface killer, or the wonderful blend of horror and comedy, but the Scream movies captivated me like nothing had before. The first two Screams are insanely badass; with loveable characters, cringe-inducing violence and shock reveals, creating a bench-mark for modern horror. Scream 3 was a clusterfuck of junk. The idea of Scream 4 was just as exciting as it was terrifying. A strong reboot of a once unparalleled franchise, or a tacky attempt to wring some more cash out of a dead series of movies? Luckily, my fears were pretty much unfounded.

Scream 4 has been released into an era which has moved on from the whodunnit-style horror genre practically re-invented by Scream in 1996. There was a brief period of Japanese-inspired cinema with creepy little ghost girls, followed by the quickly 'over' torture-porn era. Now we're in a time where the most familiar trait in horror cinema is 'the re-imagining', or the straight up 'remake'. Being this franchise, writer Kevin Williamson hilariously acknowledges such things, giving Hayden Panettiere a lengthy monologue where she recites practically every recent horror movie remake to hit theaters, as well as a deliciously campy finale in which characters gleefully set out to remake the events of Sidney Prescott's life. Or, in the Scream world, the events of the first Stab movie.

Some of this pastiche doesn't entirely work. The idea of the killer filming his or her murders is dropped at various points and clumsily resurfaces right at the end, some of the dialogue references (specifically those involving Channing Tatum and Bruce Willis) come off a little forced, and the meta overdose of the opening sequence(s) drown out the potential for any actual suspense or tension. The truly interesting 'statement' the script makes is not, in fact, anything about movies at all. The lasting idea that remains with you even after you've left the movie theater is of our current generation's hunger for instant fame and notoriety, not based on any particular talent, but fame based on fame itself. Sidney herself is described callously as a 'celebrity victim', and those responsible for this latest string of murders want a piece of the action. It's a wonderfully post-modern idea, creating something far more affecting than the very cinematic idea of 'good ol'-fashioned revenge' as depicted in the previous Scream movies.

One of my fears before going in was whether or not the film would successfully balance the three Scream veterans and the franchise newbies. But while David Arquette's perpetually awkward Dewey Riley and Courteney Cox's ruthless Gale Weathers (her new face just as distracting as that heinous haircut in Scream 3) vanish for long periods in the film's second half, the right balance is struck. While we don't necessarily care about some of the fresh meat, their presence is welcome, an engaging depiction of a jaded generation familiar with horror movie traditions as well as the poking-fun of said traditions.

What holds the film together is Neve Campbell's iconic heroine Sidney Prescott. There's a great moment when, after witnessing something horrific, Sidney doesn't run away or seek help, she recklessly seeks out the killer, or at least try and help the person he's just done slaughtering. Here we have a horror movie lead with compassion and strength, still haunted by her traumatic past, but strong enough to make sure she's not going down without a fight.

The fresh faces filling up the various body bags are, appropriately, a mixed bag. Hayden Panettiere is shockingly entertaining as the one young character that seems actually real, vibrant and intriguing; while Marley Shelton is sufficiently amusing as Gale's romantic rival and a long-forgotten ex-classmate of Sidney's. Mad Men's Alison Brie also has a fun cameo as Sidney's attention-starved publicist. Mary McDonnell, Mary McDonnell's plastic surgeon, Adam Brody and Anthony Anderson are all pretty wasted in their thin 'mom' and 'detective' roles; but add a star quota which helps create a couple of fun red herrings. Surely he/she's gotta be the killer, because he/she is too famous to just get murde-... oh, okay.

Unlike the anemic Scream 3, the gore quota is high. Intestines litter bed-sheets, folks are thrown off buildings and get knifes stuck through their heads. It's a doozy of blood and guts, kids. The final showdown, a fun riff on Halloween 2, is mildly trashy but extremely entertaining, capped by one of the most badass 'action-hero' lines since "I'll be back".

Scream 4 comes after an original trilogy which carefully deconstructed a genre while simultaneously worshiping it. The movie could have easily fallen into any one of the numerous traps it could have faltered with (underuse of Sidney, elaborate self-referencing), but remains surprisingly fun. There are certainly moments that don't entirely work, but there's also a feeling of familiarity which makes it such a fun two-hour thrill ride. I love these characters, I love that difficult horror/comedy tone three out of four Scream movies have managed to hit, and I really liked this movie. My childhood isn't tainted. Rating A

Stars David Arquette (Sheriff Dewey Riley); Neve Campbell (Sidney Prescott); Courteney Cox (Gale Weathers); Emma Roberts (Jill Roberts); Hayden Panettiere (Kirby Reed); Anthony Anderson (Deputy Anthony Perkins);
Adam Brody (Deputy Hoss); Rory Culkin (Charlie Walker); Mary McDonnell (Kate Roberts); Marley Shelton (Deputy Judy Hicks); Alison Brie (Rebecca Walters); Marielle Jaffe (Olivia Morris); Erik Knudsen (Robbie Mercer); Nico Tortorella (Trevor Sheldon); Anna Paquin (Rachel); Kristen Bell (Chloe); Lucy Hale (Sherrie); Shenae Grimes (Trudie); Brittany Robertson (Marnie Cooper); Aimee Teegarden (Jenny Randall)
Writer Kevin Williamson Director Wes Craven

No comments:

Post a Comment