Saturday, April 16, 2011

Scream 4 (2011)

A treat for horror fans, this 10-years-later sequel follows up on main characters, Sidney, Dewey, and Claire, who all happen to be in Woodsboro when a copycat Ghostface killer begins capping off local teens. The opening 5 minutes immediately set the tone for the rest of the film, with a plethora of meta cross-referencing, self-consciously false scares, and envelope pushing, genuinely surprising kills. Kevin Williamson, returning to the franchise after letting Wes Craven and Ehren Kruger nearly ruin the franchise with the yuck-yuck ridden Scream 3, brings the self-awareness of the originals full-circle with the entire cast, rather than just Randy, being in on the joke; the film gets a lot of tension out of the potential victims never being quite sure whether they are truly being stalked or being pranked by someone homaging the "Stab" series (the within-the-film adaptations of the "true" events of Woodsboro). The trends in modern horror are acknowledged, with one scene name dropping the majority of recent horror remakes, and the characters constantly debating whether they are in a sequel or a reboot (Williamson gets a great moment out of the line "Number one rule about remakes...don't fuck with the original.") Every time my date (or I) jumped out of her seat, it reminded me just how good Wes Craven's work can be when he's on point; there are many, many genuine surprise moments in the film, and they never feel tacked on, cheap, or desperate.

Like the originals, this one has an all-B+-star cast. Aside from returning leads, Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courtney Cox (who looks, and acts, terribly), Hayden Panetierre, Emma Roberts, Rory Culkin, Marley Shelton, Alison Brie, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, and Mary MacDonnell all have moderate-to-central roles (Panetierre, Shelton, and, surprisingly, Anderson are the most memorable). However, one of the highest compliments I can pay this entry is that it affirms, finally, that Sidney is ostensibly the heart and soul of this franchise. There is a scene where she tells a bereaved character "You know how people always say they know how you feel when they don't? I know how you feel." It would not work if her performance as Sidney had not been consistently immediate and real since the first film, and because of Campbell's repeated dedication to a role many other actresses would blow off as genre fluff, that moment, and a number of others like it (not to mention the otherwise-contrived scene in Scream 3 where she discovers the movie set version of her childhood home) are touching in a way not seen in many teen-centric horror films. When she used to land a kick or punch into the killer, keeping him off her, we used to laugh at the killer's klutziness; now, we cheer for Sid's undying survival skills. The attention given to her character, along with the relative fun of the aloof local teens (the film geeks, while obvious and overplayed, get their fair share of zingers), raise the film above the level of, not only its direct predecessor, but of a good amount of the original horror films of the past decade.

My qualms with the film are few, and far between, and they are mostly concerned with the treatment of Gale Weathers, the vaguely "reshot" look of the final scenes, and some of the shoehorned in film geek banter (Panetierre's "wannabe" film geek gets more pathos and humor than the "real-deals"). The tone, the scares, the laughs, the acting, the cameos, and the buildup are all top-notch, and make this a genuine rarity: a decade-plus later sequel that manages to not only capture, but expand on, the themes of the original.

Recommended for fans of the Scream franchise, or of more self-aware, "meta" (the word gets thrown around a lot, in jest) horror films. I was worried that, after 14 years, Williamson's self-aware jargon would be tired, pathetic, and out-of-touch. I stand, very gladly, corrected.

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