Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Scream 4

Christmas time 1996: A new horror film with a terribly attractive cast just opened up on screens.  It was branded a horror-comedy and the fresh angle was that it put a sarcastic, and decidedly self-referential spin to the laws of slasher movies.  Not just a slasher, gut-the-pretty-girls genre piece (of course, it was that as well- a genre staple ever since Janet Leigh entered the shower in 1960), but also an almost communal experience to unite all the film nerds who worshiped the glory days of 1980s slasher movies.  Adding to the meta-fun was that it was directed by a master of many of those flicks, Wes Craven.  The film, of course, was Scream, and with it's clever, perhaps all-too-clever self awareness of the grade-B fun that these movies are supposed to be, but so rarely are, it was new and exciting and successful.  Two sequels and eleven years later we jump to Scream 4, and all that precious cleverness, as well as the telephone-haunting, Ghostface-stabbing feels, sadly, dated.  The tides of time are all too apparent as the film wares down-- this isn't the age of Scream-- that would be the late-90s, and the too-cool, overly articulate movie geek dialogue is, at times, painfully stale.  Perhaps, it's that in the interim, we (the moviegoing collective) have endured nearly a 1,000 Saw films, a joyous Dawn of the Dead remake, and even more joyous parody Shaun of the Dead, nearly 1,000 dreadful other prequels\sequels\reboots\whatchamacallits, Paranormal Activy-s-- we've become too aware of the horror machinations that Scream 4 explains to us throughout.  Yet, for the truly devoted, and even the semi-fans of the venerable franchise (like myself), there's still moments of giddy little jumps and bouncy banter delivered by an ensemble that's old school and new-- again all terribly attractive and ripe for a stabbing.

The best part of Scream 4 is it's opening-- it's best since Drew Barrymore met her fate in the original outing-- a funny\scary\meta, finely calibrated fake out.  It dishes everything prime and sweet and bloody about the series, with it rattling off dialogue of horror movie cliches and surprise stabs; Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell are good sports in their quickie cameos.  At first it's a redesign (it was written by original scribe Kevin Williamson), rather than sequel, declaring, with it's campaign slogan, "new decade, new rules," and the opening re-sparks the nifty comedy\horror that felt so fresh to begin with.

It's ten years later, and Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns home to Woodsboro.  She's on a book tour, her writing-- an inspirational tome about overcoming the odds of victimhood and such.  Her old allies are there-- Dewey (David Arquette), whose turned from Barney Fife to Andy Taylor, and steely reporter Gail (Courtney Cox), now there married.  We also meet the fresh new breed of potential victims\suspects, starting with Sidney's cousin Jill (Emma Roberts), and her high school cohorts, all a comely group of young actors fresh from the WB stock house.  Of the new school, Hayden Panetttiere and Rory Culkin make the best impressions.  And just as the cheesy, gleeful ride of the opening fake-out ends, we realize everything is back to normal-- people start dying, the typical fake out whodunnit starts (is the ex-boyfriend of Jill's, or the social awkward deputy, or...), all while horror movies, both old and new, are dissected and name-checked.  Thankfully, there's still a loving nod to the sneaky, original question that started it all..."What is your favorite scary movie?"  It becomes clearer as the movie meanders about, that it's not Ghostface that's the problem here, but rather, father time.  The dithering, all-too-self-awareness of the dialogue (the same that was fresh fifteen years ago) starts to come off arch and forced.  And while, on surface value, there's nothing inherently wrong with Scream 4, it feels necessary and unwelcome.

Well, when I say there's nothing wrong with Scream 4, I'm mistaken, there is one painful move of wrong-headedness, and sadly it's the last stretch of the film.  It has a bit of the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King condition in that it doesn't want to end.  There's about six ideal spots where it should take it's bow, and refuses.  All the winking it gives to it's audience can't save it at this point.  These new rules for a new decade it promises goes out the window with the sad notion that it's time that killed this production.  C+

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