Monday, April 18, 2011

Movie Review: Scream 4

Scream 4 ***
Directed by: Wes Craven.
Written by: Kevin Williamson.
Starring: Neve Campbell (Sidney Prescott), David Arquette (Dewey Riley), Courteney Cox (Gale Weathers-Riley), Hayden Panettiere (Kirby Reed), Emma Roberts (Jill Roberts), Marley Shelton (Deputy Judy Hicks), Erik Knudsen (Robbie Mercer), Rory Culkin (Charlie Walker), Nico Tortorella (Trevor Sheldon), Marielle Jaffe (Olivia Morris), Anthony Anderson (Deputy Perkins), Adam Brody (Detective Hoss), Alison Brie (Rebecca Walters), Mary McDonnell (Kate Roberts), Lucy Hale (Sherrie), Shenae Grimes (Trudie), Dane Farwell (Ghostface), Anna Paquin (Rachel), Kristen Bell (Chloe), Aimee Teegarden (Jenny Randall), Brittany Robertson (Marnie Cooper), Roger Jackson (The Voice).

I was 15 when the first Scream movie came out – and I loved it. At the time, I hadn’t even seen many of the movies they were referencing, but I had seen enough horror movies to get the clich├ęs that Scream was poking fun at. This was a movie that managed to be funny and scary at the same time. As a genre, horror seems to be constantly going through phases, recycling itself over and over again. Scream started a brief period of self conscious and hip horror films – most of which were crap. Scream, and then Scream 2, which played on the idea of horror sequels, were really the only ones to do it that successfully. Even Scream 3, which tried to poke fun at “trilogies” didn’t really work. With that movies failure, the self conscious horror movie was pretty much over – and it wasn’t until Saw came around, and started the whole “torture porn” phase that we got into another cycle. Now that phase has pretty much died (thankfully), the horror genre in many ways has grown stagnate – simply remaking the hits from the past, and while some of these movies are good (Dawn of the Dead, The Hills Have Eyes), most of them suck. Scream 4 plays with the idea of remakes – it isn’t a remake, but of course so much time has passed, that Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) can no longer be the innocent teenager, so the film has the killer in the movie essentially remaking the first movie himself – with new victims, while drawing Sidney – along with Deputy, now Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and his wife Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) back into the fray. I wouldn’t argue that Scream 4 is a great movie – or that it does anything all that original given what this series has done in the past – but as a blast of ‘90s nostalgia (and it makes me feel old just typing that phrase), Scream 4 is extremely entertaining.

The film opens with Sidney coming back to Woodsboro for the first time in years. She has written a best seller about her decision to take her life back and stop being a victim, and Woodsboro is the final stop on her book tour. Before she even arrives though, two teenage girls are brutally murdered (in a clever opening sequence that plays with the audience repeatedly), and the whole cycle seems to beginning again. All Sidney wants to do is get out of town as quick as possible, but because some evidence has been found in the trunk of the rental car, they tell her she cannot leave (which is probably not the smartest decision in the world, but after all, this is a movie where Dewey is the Sheriff), so Sidney is stuck staying at her Aunt’s house. Sidney’s teenage cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and her friends – Kirby (Hayden Panttiere), Olivia (Marielle Jaffe) and Trevor (Nico Tortorella), along with film geeks Robbie (Erik Knudsen) and Charlie (Rory Culkin) seem to be the teenagers at the center of these new crimes – as victims and potential suspects. The bodies start piling up fast and furious.

The film is fun in the way the first two Scream movies were fun. Writer Kevin Williamson (who wrote the first two films) and director Wes Craven (who made all three) are back, and they obviously like playing with our expectations, and throwing in twists and turns along the way. Craven, who in the past has fought his horror movie master status a little bit (he never planned on making a career at just horror films), now at 71 seems to have accepted it – and decides to go at it with gusto. This could easily be the bloodiest of the Scream movies, the deaths more violent than ever before, even as they play with the deaths from the first film. Campbell, like Jamie Lee Curtis before her, will always be associated with this franchise, and I think made the wise decision to simply embrace it. The role of Sidney fits her like a glove, and once again, she does a fine job with it – as do the other returning cast members Arquette, still a lovable doofus, and Cox, still a raging bitch. The new cast members – especially Panttiere, Roberts and Culkin – have fun in their roles as well – bringing Scream to a new generation.

As I mentioned off the top, Scream 4 doesn’t really add anything new to mix as to what this series has done in the past. But the decade between movies adds to the charm of this one. The film knows what is expected of it, and delivers in spades.

Note: One of the things that I, as a film buff, have always admired about the Scream movies is the references the movies throws in, as well as the trivia questions that the killer asks his victims over the phone. One caught my attention this time when Ghostface asked what film started the slasher movie trend – Friday the 13th, Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Psycho. The would be victim answers Psycho, which is the generally accepted answer, only to have Ghostface tell her she’s wrong, that it was a trick question and the real answer was Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom. Technically, the killer is correct in that Peeping Tom was released in May 1960, and Psycho was released in June 1960. However, Peeping Tom, although considered a masterpiece today (and I would argue, is perhaps even a greater film than Psycho), was reviled when it was released in 1960 and was barely released, pretty much ruining the career of one of cinema’s greatest directors. The film didn’t start to gain any recognition – in fact was barely seen at all – until much later. So while Peeping Tom came out a month before Psycho, so like I said technically Ghostface is correct, I think the victim would have a very good case for arguing for Psycho actually starting it – as it is the film that I would think most of the directors who truly embraced the slasher genre, and starting making them in the 1970s (Craven, Carpenter, Hooper, etc) would have likely been inspired by. Unfortunately, of course, you cannot really file an appeal to a mad man with a knife.

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