Monday, April 11, 2011

Review: Scream 4

Scream 4
Dir. Wes Craven
Year: 2011
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 103mins

**NOTE: This review is spoiler free!**

Some people appear to have mistaken my anticipation for Scream 4 as just geeky franchise worship. And while it’s true that I would most definitely go and see even Scream 8: Ghostface Takes Manhattan, a lot of the reason why this movie feels like such an event is because this is the Scream 4 we never thought we’d get. By the time the fourth film of a horror franchise rolls around the cast and crew that made the original(s) so worthwhile have almost all but moved on, so when it was announced that not only that the original creative team – director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson – were returning, but also the three main principal cast members – Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox – well, that was the tipping point from being an exciting curiosity to full-blown mad anticipation. Did it live up to my own hype? It sure did!

Coming 11 years after Scream 3 reconfigured its story to Hollywood and became one big in-joke (a funny one that I like much more than most, it would seem), Scream 4 returns to the Californian town of Woodsboro from the original Scream where the residents seem equally divided between those who mourn the original tragedy and those who revel in it. The anniversary of the slayings is treated like Halloween by the younger generation, sending mock telephone calls to their friends and dressing public property up in scary costumes. Hollywood turned Woodsboro’s – or more specifically, Sidney Prescott’s – tragedy into a movie named Stab and now the students of Woodsboro High host a yearly “Stabathon”, a movie marathon featuring all 7 of the Stab movies. Even the fifth one that, hilariously, somehow involves time travel.

Returning to Woodsboro is the aforementioned Sidney Prescott, touring a new self help book touting herself as “no longer a victim”. But, needless to say, her return brings about a new batch of killings, committed by somebody – or somebodies – in a Ghostface mask who uses the telephone to taunt his prey. Sidney’s cousin, Jill, and her friends appear to have become the killer’s prime targets, and along with Sheriff Dwight nee Deputy Dewey and his former Hollywood entertainment reporter wife Gale Weathers they must try and hunt down the perpetrator for as long as they can survive.

Some may say I was predisposed to liking Scream 4, but as has been proven time and time again it is usually those who are so closely tied to a franchise that will find the most at fault with a new one - just look at the Indiana Jones and Star Wars series’ for examples of that. And while Scream 4 has its issues, it succeeds through a mix of the old fashioned slasher movie conventions that the original Scream trilogy manipulated so well, as well as new twists and tricks that will surprise anybody who has watched the original trilogy enough. Just when you think nobody else can die, they do. Just when you think the filmmakers will take a break from the murdering mayhem, they don’t. Just when you think the movie has ended, it hasn’t. Long-time fans will find a lot of cherish about this new sequel, which abides by its tagline of “new decade, new rules”. Regular moviegoers who just want a few frights on their Friday night will also find plenty to satisfy, I’m sure. Gorehounds disappointed by the rather bloodless Scream 3 will rejoice.

Where Scream differs so greatly to the vast majority of horror movies is in its characters. Where most have generally anonymous actors playing stock standard roles that equate to nothing more than “heroic boyfriend” or “sassy best friend”, Scream 4, just like its predecessors, goes a long way in establishing its band of new and old cast members as a real group of friends and family. Their interactions with one another, their back and forth dialogue and secrets bubbling beneath the surface make them far more interesting and worthy of investing time in. When one dies – and to pretend they all get out alive is silly – there’s actually feelings there. When the killer (or killers) is revealed, it hits like a punch to the gut. In fact, Scream 4 works much better than Scream 2 or 3 in that regards, by having worked its characters harder and stronger (despite a much shorter, punchier running time). There are several deaths that were met with shock, surprise and near hysterical behaviour (and not just by me, I assure you). The performances are generally strong, with particular notice going to Campbell – looking so mature and beautiful, even if she’s dressed in dowdy outfits for the second half – Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin and Alison Brie. And to say it doesn't feel good to see Arquette and Cox in fine form is a big fat lie. Cox especially gets several great one-liners, relishing the chance to spit foul language out of her mouth that she can't do on Cougar Town.

If I have to be critical then my displeased glare would be focused very quickly upon the opening scene. For a franchise that became famous for its typically violent prologue (remember Drew Barrymore’s untimely end 15 years ago?), Craven and Williamson have taken an incredibly big gamble with it this time and haven’t altogether succeeded. They do, however, include several great gags that go a long way to relieving the pent up pressure that 11 years between franchise instalments can produce. Elsewhere, I have to question the character of Mary McDonnell’s Kate Roberts. Written like an afterthought, acted like she’s in another movie (actually, she would fit right in with the more comically aligned Scream 3) and all but forgotten at long stretches. It’s especially disappointing for a franchise that has always gone to great lengths to make the adults as interesting and important as the teenagers. It’s also sadly quite obvious that some scenes have been heavily tinkered with, especially when you compare it to the trailers and television commercials. It’s like there’s a different film waiting for the DVD release.

And, honestly, the number of times a character places their body against a door with the killer right outside? The number of times a character walks outside to investigate a strange noise? That's a bit silly. Haven't they learnt anything?

Still, Scream 4 succeeds far more often than it falters and that’s most surely because of the direction of horror maestro Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson. Both have done a stunning job of subverting expectations, whilst at the same time delivering on exactly what we wanted. They have given us Scream nerds what we wanted, and given Hollywood what it needed. They have shown how you do a sequel and proven that the fourth film in a franchise needn’t be a simple throwaway grab for cash. It can be relevant and necessary.

Williamson, who wrote with additional work done by Ehren Kruger and Craven, appears to have made Hollywood and this generation’s ever-churning instant news cycle his prime target. One scene in which Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby reels off a seemingly never-ending list of horror remakes is particularly telling and even mustered up an applause or two from the audience. The screenplay also has swift, if increasingly meta, jabs at the horror genre in general as well as the internet’s jagged turn from being a place of film discussion to a place of mass hysteria. There’s even a joke about the use of the word “meta”! Meanwhile, the media, in their bloodthirsty quest for the latest in breaking news get the biggest twist of the knife of all. Emma Roberts gets a moment of such pure and utter classic filmmaking that I have to hand it to Craven for having the guts to do it.

The Scream films have always been known for their references to other films and the latest is perhaps the most referential of all. The jokes on its own franchise with the Stab film-within-a-film-within-a-film-within-a-film(?) as well as footage from Scream 2 (if that makes sense) are just the beginning. Endless horror movie citations from Saw to Peeping Tom, film posters adorning the walls of nearly every room, two police officers that recall Craven’s own Last House on the Left and even recreations of other famed horror movies (one such scene that emulates the original Scream from 1996 specifically had me in fits of “oh shit!”) They never let up and even when Halloween II gets a big shout out, I couldn’t help but admire the bravura. It even gets in jokes about Facebook, Twitter and Jersey Shore without looking desperate for hip points and its handling of modern mobile phone technology is keenly done alongside the old fashioned clunky landline phones that are as iconic to these films as the Edvard Munch inspired mask.

The team behind Scream 4 have gone for broke. They know people stop caring about horror sequels after a while and the only way this was going to be any different was to take everything they had done before and turn it up to eleven. They succeeded in making a Scream for a new generation, one that is more brutal and more gory, yet still funny and entertaining. This could perhaps rank as the greatest franchise revival in cinema history and while even discussing the potential for a Scream 5 seems ridiculous given where this fourth film goes, if they show half as much ingenuity in it as they do here then it will be just as much of a must see as Scream 4. A- (although who knows where it'll sit once I've seen it five times, 20 times, 106 times...)


Anthony Mai said...

Now I really want to watch the first three and then go watch this one!!

Anonymous said...

Ah what a tantalizing review. The soundbites from trailers about "a new generation" and "new rules" and webcams seemed a little lame, but it seems like I should reserve my judgement. A little confused by the part about Emma Roberts and "her face". But excited to see Emma Roberts and Hayden Panettiere pull off some memorable performances hopefully.

Steven said...

Fantastic review!
I'm in New Zealand and am watching it on Thursday night. I always felt that I would be rewarded with a pre-screening because I avidly followed the production for two years...alas, I am lumped-in with the commoners. But who cares. It's Scream 4! Your review has me pumped. Thanks heaps!

Glenn Dunks said...

Anon, the "as her face" bit was a weirdo type. I'd deleted a chunk of that paragraph but those three words skipped my vision. Nothing important, really, just "as her face expresses the shocking images in front of her."

Liam said...

I'll be honest, I don't want to read the review in full. So bless you for the one sentence I needed to hear.

"Did it live up to my own hype? It sure did!"

I promise to come back after I've seen it and read your write up though!

Anonymous said...

Is it scary and suspenseful? I hope it is.

Glenn Dunks said...

I jumped several times, gasped many more and there is a lot of tension in the scenes where there's meant to be some. Less so in the opening scene, unfortunately.

Rafael said...

Yay! I saw it today (in Paris)! Amazing audience, clapping and screaming since the very beginning; solid script, great performances specially from Emma Roberts (I so agree with the whole "face" thing), amazing opening imo!

Not disappointed at all, although I'm not sure exactly if this leads to a 5th installment, I sensed things pretty much ended here, but we'll see... So happy the long wait ended, going for a second view over the weekend!

Rafael said...

Oh, btw the second killing is epic! How it's build up and Sidney there and... ok I'll shut up now! :)

Steven said...

I just got back from a screening in New Zealand, and I am sorely disappointed.
Unfortunately, this installment has opted for laughs over heart. It has lost the beautiful, lingering shots of rural Woodsboro or a desolate Windsor College campus, and feels crammed and hyperactive. There were too many characters for the relatively short run time of the film, and there weren't enough cat and mouse setups. It just all felt very immature and way too self-conscious. The characters felt like underwritten (and poorly written) rehashes of their Scream predecessors. It's like everybody was Randy. I was most offended by the terrible one-liners before some characters' deaths, and during pivotal moments where it just wasn't needed. The humour was so abundant, that the creative forces behind this may as well have partnered with the Wayan brothers to create another Scary Movie installment.
I think that a lot of people will still like the film. There are some scares and some shocks to be had...and I was the only one from a group of six that didn't love it. I miss the mystery and the complexities that were introduced in the first trilogy. I miss the small town feel of the first. And no, my gripe isn't that it wasn't similar enough to the first...but a comparison is necessary to show what this one is lacking. There is no paranoia this time around. The town doesn't feel shaken by the events unfolding. Everybody seems to just want to make cheap references to Stab films, or make jokes about death...but not in the way the first one did. This is overkill. I must admit, I am surprised you rated it so highly.

Glenn Dunks said...

That's disappointing, Steven.

Upon a second viewing I did think the humour was perhaps too present in replace of scares, but the reason these people don't act as scares they did in the first is because that has happened so many times before. I loved the moment with the woman across the street asking how many more people have to die because of Sidney and how she's just like her mother. More of that would've been really interesting.

Popcorn said...

I am tired of the comedy spoof spin offs. Well overdue for the real thing!

Tony said...

I've been obsessing over this movie since they announced it in summer of 2008... and I've finally seen it.


I mean... it didn't have any suspence, it was literally a comedy, and just that. I felt like I was watching Stab, not Scream.

I was honestly expecting the same tension and darkness the first two films had, and what we got was more goofyness than Scream 3.

And what was with Wes' direction this time around? It was all very tight and close together compared to the other movies. If you told me Wes didn't direct it, I wouldn't question it.

Ahhh... I don't know. I'm going to see it again tomorrow night. I think after repeated viewings it'll get better... because now I know what to expect. Now I know to expect literally... what seems to be Scary Movie 5 over Scream 4.

It sounds like I hated it, but I didn't... it's good for what it is. But... think Casey Becker, Tatum Riley, Principal Himbry, Casey Cooper, the Cop Car scene... those were elaborate death scenes... awesome buildup, awesome suspence. Scream 4 I felt we got nothing to write home about.

Imagine Casey Becker after getting stabbed, saying this "Fuck, now I know how Michael Myer's victims feel... how did I ever watch those movies?" It would be stupid, would it not? Scream 4 has tons of these lines.

Now... the ending. Interesting enough but not as well executed. I'm really hoping there is an extended cut released with the DVD/BLU RAY -- because I really feel a looooot was cut out. Like too much. Everything felt way too rushed.

I also feel stupid for complaining this much, seeing as most other fans are seeming to really like it. If they DO make a Scream 5, it needs to get horrifying again. Please, please, please... Honestly, I don't even know if I want another Scream movie, lol. Like someone said in the movie

"Don't fuck with the original"

RJ said...

Just came out of a screening. I'm already big time in Scream's corner having grown up on the series, but man was this one fun! Maybe the best one since the original. The last 15 minutes or so stand up to anything from the past 3. I had no idea certain person had all of THAT in them.

Joel said...

Just got back from it and pretty much loved it. Thought the opening was awesome (even though the "real" opening lacked compared to the first three). My only real reservations was the lack of cat and mouse games, a la Tatum/Cici/Jenny McCarthy etc. I guess many characters equal see killer-stab stab. My only groan-moment was the completely unnecessary Bruce Willis reference. It seemed to be made to make the dumb hardy har man-folks of the public laugh, and just didn't sit right at all. But all in all, loved it.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunatey, this looks like a bomb Stateside. Too bad. It's a great film.

Weathers said...

Longtime lurker. I was happy to find someone who loved these films as much as I do! :)

My computer crashed, so this is a second attempt at a comment.

I thought this was a very good film. There were a few flaws that really stood out, though. The absolute WORST was the Bruce Willis payoff. These films have never played any of the deaths for "laughs," which I've always liked. People die, and it's not funny, it's brutal. So I was really disappointed with the choice in that scene. It was bizarre and out of place not only with this film, but the entire franchise.

The opening was funny and well executed (no pun intended), but it also deflates the tension needed to make the final portion really succeed.

But, overall, I really enjoyed it. Courteney Cox was great, and Gale has always been the best character in the franchise. And Neve Campbell was lovely. She doesn't get a lot of attention from fans, but her performances are alway so great and she grounds them nicely. Sidney Prescott has the most depressing/stressful life ever, though.

Anonymous said...

I concur with a previous comment about feeling closed in without the grand vistas of the original's Woodsboro. Also lacking is a genuine feeling of a community oppressed under the yoke of a killer, which Craven pulled off well in the original (illustrated in the "Red Right Hand"/ Town that Dreaded Sundown montage).

Of the new movie's characters, I hope a certain short-haired, spunky horror fan pulled through.