Friday, October 21, 2011

Scream 4

Directed by Wes Craven.
2011. Rated R, 111 minutes.
Cast:
Neve Campbell
Courteney Cox
David Arquette
Emma Roberts
Hayden Panettiere
Britt Robertson
Marielle Jaffe
Marley Shelton
Rory Culkin
Mary McDonnell
Anna Paquin
Kristen Bell

After so many years and so many of her friends being butchered around her, Sidney Prescott (Campbell) returns to Woodsboro. It’s the last stop on her book tour promoting the best-seller she’s penned about overcoming her ordeals. For those of you not in the know, she’s the ultimate “last girl” having survived the first three movies despite being the target of various killers. This grand event coincides with the anniversary of the first set of murders that she lived through along with Dewey (Arquette) and Gail (Cox) who were also fortunate enough to survive the massacres. With no teenage friends of her own, attentions turn to Sid’s young cousin Jill (Roberts) and her pals. In true slasher fashion, they start getting hacked up one by one.

This set of killings mirrors that original set. This is a fact not lost on any of our potential victims and killers. Like all of the previous movies in the series everyone is fully aware they are living through a horror movie. True to the Scream formula, they even understand that not only are they in a sequel, but a franchise reboot. Between slayings there’s lots of talk about horror movies and their rules. There’s also a jab at the Saw franchise and a narcissistic nod to director Wes Craven’s own greatness as a number of the films in his catalog are lovingly referenced. From all of this, enough humor is derived to help keep things moving at a pretty rapid rate. I have two gripes with it, though. First, any dialogue not about horror movies is wooden, perfunctory at best. Second, its saturated with gripes about the current state of the genre. Horror flicks aren’t as good as they used to be, we get it. Move on.

The ace-in-the-hole of the Scream series is actually not the scares, but the suspense. I’m usually quick to point out that for slasher fare creative kills are a must to satisfy the sadism of its audience. This group of films refutes this idea. Throughout the first three movies, and now a fourth, the vast majority of murders depicted are very bloody, but not particularly memorable, other than the opening scenes. Part 4, and the franchise as a whole understands that the boogeyman is much more powerful when you don’t know who it is. Instinctively, we begin trying to solve the mystery. This locks us in. We’re trapped, unable to wane because we must know who it is that dons the mask of the ghostface killer (Wu-Tang fans, that was for you). We keep guessing even if we think we have it right. That’s because enough things happen to make us question our own judgement. Besides that, if you’re familiar with the franchise then you know we have two identities to guess. For the record, I was slightly off on one and completely wrong on the other. By the way, that one I was way off on is a wonderful twist with some logic behind that’s somehow simultaneously brilliant and stupid. That’s a compliment.

Before returning to Woodsboro himself, Wes Craven dropped the dreadful My Soul to Take on us. It was his first directorial effort in a few years. It now feels like he used that to get in a few practice swings before really coming back. Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much with regards to the genre that made him famous. His latest might even be a little too self-aware, evidenced by no less than three opening scenes, one featuring Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell. However, he can still spin a tale that intrigues us and makes us laugh without either feeling forced. It doesn’t come near the magic of the original, which it even acknowledges. It doesn’t quite measure up to the excellent Scream 2, either. Still, it’s a huge step up from part 3 and is a very good slasher flick.

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