April 18, 2011

Movie Review: Scream 4

Scream is a franchise that I did not think I would ever see resurrected. It is not that I would not welcome it, I have, it is just one of those series of films that seemed to have run its course more than a decade ago. Still, Wes Craven, thirsty for a hit has gone back to the well one more time resurrecting his second landmark dead teenager film. He was even able to get the remaining living (character wise) cast members to return to the fold for another go around. You know what? It turns out to be a solid entry in the series, easily outshining the first two sequels and approaching the first in entertainment value. I doubt it will end up being nearly as classic as the original, but I think I will enjoy revisiting it from time to time.

When the original arrived in 1996 it helped reinvigorate the horror genre. It was the first time that a horror movie was made where the cast was aware of horror movies. They reference them, they quote them, they even tell us the rules, all while a real horror movie develops within their reality. Sure, it was a little hyper-real and the dialogue and actions were a little corny at times, but it delivered laughs and scares in equal measure while giving us something fresh on the big screen. It was followed by a a pair of sequels which took the genre deeper down the rabbit hole. The second film saw a plot thread involving a movie of the events in the first movie while the third took us right onto the movie set of a second sequel to the film glimpsed in the second. The series grew more and more meta the further it went.

With this third sequel, we have reached the other end of the rabbit hole and we get to see the series fold back upon itself in a fascinating fashion. It is simultaneously a comedy infused horror-thriller and a reflection on where the horror industry and the cult of celebrity have gone since the original arrived on the scene. It really is a pretty interesting take on things, instantly familiar and fresh at the same time. I also like how the movie feels inherently like an underdog fighting to regain relevancy in the current climate of horror cinema. Take it a step further and there is another interesting piece of meta-relevancy revealed in the..... ahhh, I guess I can't tell you about that bit until you see the movie.

Each Scream entry has opened with an extended set piece featuring the first kill, the fourth film is no different. However, it does take it a step further and while it may be a touch gimmicky, it is a pointed stab (sic) at other horror franchises and a fun way of giving us some blood.

The movie proper opens with a return to Woodsboro. It is the anniversary of the killings that Sidney (Neve Campbell) survived in the original film and Sid has come home as part of a book tour. In her process of reclaiming herself she has written a book about the experience and how she has found it possible to move on. This visit also brings out survivors Dewey (David Arquette), now the Woodsboro sheriff, and Gail Weathers (Courteney Cox), former reporter and now Dewey's wife. We are also introduced to a group of new high school students, Jill (Emma Roberts), Kirby (Hayden Panettiere), Olivia (Marielle Jaffe), Robbie (Erik Knudsen), and Charlie (Rory Culkin). Let the games begin!

The anniversary sees a new series of death in the name of Ghost Face and Sidney is once again the primary target, well, the target after a few games are played at her expense. In between the kills (which are bloodier and more brutal than any of the prior three films) we get a revisionist look at what we learned in the first film. Well, it is more like we are given modern versions of the characters we enjoyed in the original, for better or worse. These new takes bring with them new outlooks, visions, and rules. We are told of rules governing long running sequels and remakes and how they seek to one up the originals while staying true to their origins and also how they can be popular for no other reason than name recognition and through no other action of their own.

This Scream is a lot like the old scream but with a twist. It feels like a remake, but it also feels like a sequel. My favorite part of the this franchise has always been the inside baseball feel. This outing is no different. It has characters I like to watch, if not always like.

Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson have successfully breathed life into the franchise. The original should be hailed as a classic, simultaneously bringing life into a genre and spawning years of terrible copycats. This new one is a return to form, particularly for Craven whose last outing, My Soul to Take, was, how to say nicely, lacking. This time out there is energy, excitement, frightful jumps of laughter, a killer with a look that can haunt nightmares, heroes that are determined, and is just overall entertaining.

The cast does a fine job. The returning trio is great, like they never left we are allowed to slip back into their lives. The new cast represents the next generation, the feeling of remake flows through them as they present the rewritten rules.

Classic? No. Fun? Definitely. Scream 4 is a more than worthy entry into series canon and is one of the more entertaining horror entries of late. It may feel familiar, but it also feels very different from what we get as horror fans these days. There is a that feeling that it is fighting its way back to relevancy in a world that thrives on so-called torture porn (a term I dislike, but works as effective shorthand).

See it, you may just find that you like it.

Highly Recommended.

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