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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Scream 4


Let me begin by saying that 1996's Scream is, maybe, my favorite movie of all time. Not because it's the best movie or the scariest one, but simply because it was my virginal experience in adult horror. I was not but an impressionable nine-year-old when I first set eyes on a panic-stricken, sobbing Drew Barrymore clutching her cordless phone like a vice grip, forced to recall horror movie icons on a whim as her boyfriend sat tied up outside and at the mercy of the original Ghostface killer. I gazed with horror and awe at the brutality and the audacity of such a convincing splatter set piece. What grew out of that single viewing experience was love, not only for a genre, but for a medium.

The ironic thing is: my experience was not necessarily the one scribe Kevin Williamson had intended (at least consciously). The original Scream was developed as pure slasher metafiction -- "a horror film about the horror film audience." It was blood-soaked, masked-maniac banality that knew exactly what it was, and through means of complete self-awareness, transcended that banality to reinvigorate the slasher genre. Psycho invented it, Halloween perfected it, but Scream made it new again. While the movie was so cliched it was brilliant to established horror fans, to a naif like me those cliches might as well have been brand new. And that is why it is near and dear to my heart.

Scream 4, the third sequel in this popular franchise, is just plain trite. And worse than that, it's wildly out of control. When the long awaited series reboot was announced a while back, I thought Williamson and (director) Wes Craven better have some good ideas in store to bring the decade dormant Ghostface killer out of hiding. During the screening I kept thinking: OK who the hell thought this was a good idea? By the end I was amazed by the creator's miraculous feat of making Scream 4 both under-cooked and over-concieved at the same time. And I was just plain sad that the beautiful and dramatic Neve Campbell is still stuck playing sulky survivor Sydney Prescott after all these years.

Of course she's not the only one back. David Arquette's clownish deputy-Dewey-boy is now sheriff of Woodsboro (the town from the first film). Muck-raker Gale Weathers (played by Courtney Cox, no hyphen Arquette, thank you very much), who during three previous films went from vile bitch to marriage-material bitch, is now back to the former. She's married to Dewey. Sydney comes back to town to promote some self-help book. And right off the bat two teenage tweeters are sliced and diced igniting a fresh Ghostface stab-a-thon. Williamson also adds a whole new crop of teen victims that includes Sydney's cousin Jill (Emma Roberts), her friend Kirby (Hayden Panettiere), and movie nerd Charlie (Rory Culkin), among others.

They're all sarcastic film buffs and free-range cannon fodder. That's about it. The original Scream film had more layers. The murders, the investigation, and the publicity surrounding them were taken seriously. The pre-Columbine media circus now feels hauntingly prophetic. 1996's Sydney was mourning the death of her mother and dealing with her subsequent intimacy issues. The genre skewing cheekiness was merely one of those layers. Scream 4 shoots so hard for cleverness -- in the wake of the tech revolution -- that it comes off as snippy, snarky and too savvy for its own good. Discussions of reboots, remakes and references hog the dialogue and crowd out any substance or character. Should we care that Gale is struggling to write a new book or that Sydney sees too much of herself in Jill? Cause we don't. If Craven and Williamson don't care enough to put those conflicts before the sardonic banter, why should we?

The rest is academic: The murders are repetitious and ineffective. (Scream was a horror movie foremost ya know?). Too many characters are introduced only to be slain unimaginatively. And that ending: is it predictable? No. Was it a good idea? Don't get me started. To give Scream 4 some credit, it does move quickly, the opening is cute, and laughs come fast. (Whether or not they were intended I couldn't say). But the whole enterprise devolves too quickly into overt self-parody. Watching it is like dating somebody who can't stop ripping on themselves. Who wants to do that? I was disappointed the fadeout didn't reveal the Wayans Brothers on a couch watching their rough cut for Scary Movie 8. That would have made a lot more sense.

Still, I cherish the Scream series like a keepsake. If they make a Scream 5, I'll see that one too. I owe that much to Kevin Williamson who, in an interview, called Halloween the movie that sparked his love of film. He may have intended Scream for cliche-tired veterans, but he helped birth at least one new cinephile in the process. I'm forever grateful for that.

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