Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Screen Fiend: Scream 4

(Screen Fiend will be for movies I manage to catch at the theater, fyi)

I might be late to this party, but when have I ever been timely?

About a month before this came out, I watched all three Scream movies one after another. I hadn't watched any of them in at least a decade and they just kind if meandered in my memories, existing in a haze of "they're alright." So with the arrival of newest entry, whose existence is due solely to the Weinstein's turning to established franchises of the past in a bid to cover their company's bankruptcy, I decided to give the old ones a go before they got boxed in with everything else in preparation for our move. Frankly, I was surprised. They all held up as genuinely fun movies with characters that were enduring even today. I even enjoyed the third one which I remember leaving the theater not thinking too kindly on it. While my problems with Wes Craven may not be well documented yet, I'm sure they will be at some point, I'll have to say that these three movies hold up better than just about anything on his resume. Now, we just have to worry about a decade newcomer to see if it tarnishes them.

Beware of spoilers ahoy, though I'll give an extra big warning before I get to the denouement.

The beginning almost lost me. It tried to be funny and clever, but the acting and dialog were horrible. I don't know if they were pushing it to be a parody of Kevin Williamson's writing, or it just ended up that way as a result of the forced reshoots, though that doesn't explain the score beating you over the head like a baby seal.

After the customary initial attack, we find Officer Dewey and Gale, who looks like a botox machine was possessed and attacked her repeatedly, are waking up to their hum-drum small town life on the same day Sidney shows up to hawk her book, essentially selling the message of Look, I Stopped Whining, and So Can You!. Dewey's trying to be the big man in town while Gale's forced to be the bored housewife, having traded her own get the story drive for tedium in the face of middle age and settling down, jealous of Sidney's success. When the murders start back up, it gives her the push to go out and accomplish something once again, but at the same time finds herself at odds with Dewey's authority. Sidney's...well...she's still the same. Kind of mopey and sullen the whole time, though at this point it's probably understandable. Having roughly thirty friends and family sliced and diced affects a person somehow. I never did find her to have much of a personality other than being the straight man to the series, but at least here when she's confronted with Ghostface, she's been around the block enough to know to just hit the fucker. They usually end up being little twerps anyways, nothing that can't stand up to a good tackle.

Besides the big three, there's a new group of students being prepped for the new audience the producers are trying to endure themselves to. Emma Roberts plays Sidney's niece in about the same way Neve Campbell plays Sydney, the Final Girl, the middle of the road character that all their fringe friends with more personality traits revolve around. Such friends are actually one of the highlights of the movie. Rory Culkin does a great job of playing the "Randy" role while not actually aping his performance in any way. The same goes for Erik Knudsen stepping in for Matthew Lillard. Hayden Panettiere fills in the blonde best friend role, but has a more developed and fun role than is usually given in a slasher film. Nico Tortorella is given the Skeet Ulrich role, but seems to be impersonating a piece of wood for the majority of the movie. I know they were trying to have him play the most glaring red herring, but he seemed mentally deficient up until the end, where a glimpse of how funny his character could be pops up before disappearing again. There's a few other roles here and there played by fun actors, but for the most part they're just there to be either red herrings or meat for the machine.

A real testament for the movie is how it introduced a whole new set of characters, obviously as a shoe-in for a muted "reboot" that all franchises are trying to accomplish. These kids legitimately feel like they're in high school, versus guys in their mid to late thirties as featured in even the original Scream. Normally in situations like this, I feel kind of bitter at these types of characters since as a viewer, you grow attached to the recurring characters over the time-span of the series and the knowledge that these guys are being groomed for replacements, i.e. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull et al. In this, I never felt that way. I didn't mind when the movie cut to them and moved away from the power trio from the other films, primarily because their characters were handled well and they kept the movie fresh. For a bonus, the movie takes this reboot approach and chucks it out the window by the time the ending comes along.

As the movie goes on, there's the typical stalk and slash scenes thrown around as the characters try to figure out what's going on. A scene involving a neighbor's house sets up how much more brutal the kills are in this one, leaving some of the most gruesome imagery in the series which helps nurture our investment when Sydney comes face to face with the killer and she doesn't hesitate to kick his ass. One kill in particular was so bizarrely absurd and at the same time wince inducing, I wasn't sure if I should have laughed or been appalled. It involves a knife and a cranium if you want to know which one. A set piece at a Stab party creates a heavy dose of tension when one of the core characters are placed in real danger while at the same time using society's constant use of cameras as a source of terror. In fact, through out the whole movie, there's little jabs at the way technology's changed the way things are handled in slasher films. When someone is killed, there's no way to stop the entire wave of texts sent by the legion of teenagers and their phones. POV cameras are used to allude to the recent trend of found footage movies as well as our seemingly constant need to achieve higher levels of reality in media. The greatest irony in the movie comes in the ending where the film that was being marketed as a reboot for new audiences turns into a parody of that very notion.




I halfway guessed the ending early on in the movie simply because I thought how awesome on an idea it'd be if they did it, never really thinking they would. You could imagine how happy I was to see they actually went for it. Sydney's niece and Culkin boy using the exact same idea most producers have with remakes to carry out their plan was ingenious, calling out out need to recycle and return to well worn roads over and over again. They recreate the exact same setup as the original's ending, but with the plan to edge out the "old" stars and replace it with a fresh new face, using today's social media to push themselves into the now vacated spotlight and providing a fresh face for the teens out there. Everything Emma Roberts spits out for her reasoning probably passed the lips of big time producers at same point in time. When the victory of the beloved characters that we've stuck by all these years comes, it creates a heartwarming feel of accomplishment in the viewer. The ending is violent, funny, intelligent, and genuinely surprising. I'd already place it pretty high among slasher film endings if that tells you how much I enjoyed the last third of this movie. And that's without Sydney's final line of "Never fuck with the original!", an earnest battle cry horror fiends have been screaming for years.




The film as a whole is one of the rare birds where I hated the beginning but it slowly got better as the run time went on, until I absolutely loved the ending. I still say Wes Craven has no style, seriously try to pick out anything that stands out as being his, but I really believe that the strengths of this franchise lay in the writing. The main three characters all have a purpose aren't there to simply exist because it was expected. They have their own problems and paths that they try to go down alone but find they still need the strength of each other. The new characters are all fully realized played by competent actors, save for the ones that appear the least, leading to some hope for new teen oriented slashers in the future. It's the combination of these strong characters along with the love of the genre that it knows the audience has that leads to such an effective and satisfying ending. It's a movie that feels like seeing an old friend again and leaves you with hope for the future after so many depressing years. Why this did so badly at the box office? I'd say mostly because they threw it out there just expecting that same audience to be there without really hyping it up for the new teens out there. They say that a part 5 is still going to happen, but if it never comes to be I'll be content. Besides every new entry is another opportunity to really retcon the shit out of it and say something moronic like Sydney and Gale are sisters and their real dad was an evil priest and offers sacrifices to the Ghostface god and...well, that's enough of that. I'll be that guy to go ahead and say this is the best in the series, and the greatest example of there being new tales to tell rather than hitting the "restart" button.

Grade: B+

No comments:

Post a Comment