Saturday, April 16, 2011

Scream 4 - Theatrical Review


Release Date: April 15, 2011

Did we really need a fourth Scream installment? No we didn't but apparently some people out there needed a paycheck. None of the key cast, the director or writer have had much or any success since this series ended eleven years ago so I guess it was time for them to jump back on board the money train. The cast and crew's motivations aside, the question it any good?

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC Glendora 12
Time: 11:25 am April 15, 2011
Projector Type: Digital 2D

Loves: The original Scream trilogy
Likes: Wes Craven, the entire original cast, most of the new comers
Neutral: Adding a fourth film to a trilogy
Hates: A series that never ends
Scary: This isn't

I remember when the first Scream came out back in 1996 almost like it was yesterday. I remember it having a slow burn at the box office. It was one of the few films in history that actually made more money as the weeks went on instead of dropping off. My mind is filled with images of crowded theaters with people eager to see what all the fuss was about. They were literally lining the walls of the sold out showings and sitting in the aisles. It wasn't a huge box office success but it made a huge impact on the horror/slasher genre the likes of which we hadn't seen since the original Halloween came out. Then of course the sequel machine started but there was a catch this time, everyone involved from the director to the cast were all committed to making this a trilogy and actually having it END. This was unheard of, a horror franchise with a "final" chapter...for real. Well, at least it was real for a little over a decade and regardless of how good this film turned out, that dream of a complete horror trilogy is gone forever now.

Ten years have passed from the time we left the last film and we find ourselves back in some very familiar ground in Woodsboro as the anniversary for the original killings has just arrived along with the series survivor and main attraction Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell). She has spent the last ten years trying to get away from everything related to those horrible events that changed her life forever and her final hurrah is a book signing in her home town for the novel that supposedly set her free. She isn't the only familiar face in town though, we find out that the resilient and much more mature Dewey (David Arquette) is still around but no longer a deputy, he now carries the honor of being the towns sheriff. He isn't alone though as we see that he is still married to Gale Weathers-Riley (Courtney Cox) whom is now retired from the life of a news reporter and is trying to keep up with her book writing career that started with her documentations of the original murders many years back.

Neve Campbell on the phone looking scared...yep, it's another Scream movie.

Those are the main characters from the original trilogy but they are joined by a whole onslaught of new faces for this fourth go-around. Out of the many new kids on the block there are only a handful that merit any mention with the main one being Jill (Emma Roberts), Sydney's much younger cousin. She is in much the same situation that Sydney was in at her age with a close friend who is really into horror films, Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) and the other who just so happens to be the hot girl on campus, Olivia (Marielle Jaffe) and a boyfriend, Trevor (Nico Tortorella), that likes to sneak into windows late at night. Their lives as well as those of Sydney, Dewey and Gale are all thrown into chaos though when it appears that there is a new killer on the loose in Woodsboro who seems to be not only recreating the original killings but also adding some new elements into the mix.

I suppose the main reason, or hook if you will, that would make the filmmakers want to come back and do another sequel (besides the money) is if they had a fresh idea to play around with. Well, with the first Scream it was all about playing around with the conceits of the horror genre and messing with our expectations. Scream 2 was more of a stab (pun very much intended) at all the horror sequels that get churned out on a usual basis. Scream 3 was more along the lines of how a proper trilogy works and how all the rules from the first and second parts go out the window. And for the most part they were all successful at what they did, more so with the first and second films, not so much with the third. So what was left for them to cover with a fourth installment? Why remakes and re-imaginings of course.

It's now Sheriff Dewey Riley.

With so many different franchises being remade such as Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and even Wes Craven's own Nightmare on Elm Street it appears that the Scream series has picked the right time and material for its new entry. The usual Scream formula from writer/producer Kevin Williamson (who wrote the first two films and did partial work on the third) is at full steam ahead here with self-referential insights into not only how the killer in the film is trying to do their very own remake of the original killings but we also get many clever asides from the new resident film geeks, Robbie (Erik Knudsen) and Charlie (Rory Culkin), that have bravely stepped into the mighty big shoes of Randy, the king of all movie horror geeks from the original trilogy. They are our gateway into how this new killer is stepping up their game by not only recreating the events of the original film but also filming their very own remake as they proceed to kill off each innocent victim.

Suspects abound in Scream 4 and with so many to pick from it actually gets sort of ridiculous by midway through the film. I am all for having a large and varied cast but there were times when the film started following characters that didn't really seem to matter in the grand scheme of things. You got yourself Dewey's helpful and energetic deputy Judy (Marley Shelton), Jill's mother and sister to Sydney's deceased mother Kate (Mary McDonnell), Sydney's money hungry assistant Rebecca (Alison Brie) and of course suspect numero uno is none other than Jill's boyfriend Trevor who always seems to arrive or disappear at the most inopportune moments. Those aren't the only suspects though, what kind of a Scream movie would this be with only those to choose from? In classic Scream style EVERYONE is a suspect in our (the viewers) eyes and it has all been constructed that way on purpose. Let's face it, the story of Sydney Prescott dried up with the original trilogy, we came here to see people (some smart, others mostly stupid) get killed and have fun trying to figure out who is behind it all.

Kirby is about to receive some bad news.

On that level Scream 4 is a success. There wasn't a moment that went by when my inner detective didn't find a new obvious or sometimes not so obvious suspect to pick apart. And that is the beauty of what the Scream series does, it messes with our heads and plays with the concrete formula of the genre that has been beaten into our subconsciousness's over the years. Is the killer really in the closet? How does the killer know what they are watching? How and why does the killer pick only specific victims or are they even picked at all? But most of all how do any of these new killings relate to Sydney? Because that has always been the question, in the first three films it was always about Sydney and something from her past that always comes back to haunt her. The lovely twist that this film throws in though is that Sydney isn't the actual person being stalked this time, it is her cousin Jill. Sydney for the most part is just like the other characters from the previous films where she is now a potential victim since she is no longer the prize so to speak.

And yes the killings themselves are fairly imaginative in their own right. I mean the staple weapon for the ghost face killer has and always will be that brutal looking hunting knife and it has never been about how a person actually is taken out. We know it will be with the knife, the question always remained whether or not the person being chased will get away and if not then it comes down to WHERE they are stabbed and how long it takes for them to either give up or die trying. In that respect I have to say I was pleased with a lot of the death scenes here, with one or two that stood out as not only favorites from this film but from all four films in general. The one other aspect of the killings though is how much notice the audience is given that something bad is gonna happen. Unfortunately there are a lot of signs pointing towards who is next on the list way before anything actually happens but there were at least a few scenes where it would come out of nowhere and shock the crap out of me (this was put to great use in the amazing opening moments of the film).

The dream team, Sydney and Gale working together again.

Yes, I used the word shock and not scare. The Scream series has never been about scaring us, other than the extreme blood letting, all the films including this one have always struck me more as a psychological/slasher/thriller hybrid. While the horror elements are most certainly present (it seems the MPAA was much easier on this film than the original) it has never really lingered on the deaths. Sure, the attacks can last a while but usually when the person is dead they are dead. They aren't displayed in some gruesome fashion or used to send a message. The deaths themselves are the message and that message is loud and clear to us and the characters in the film. Don't trust anyone and never ever leave that dam door unlocked which all the characters promptly and frustratingly ignore on more than one occasion.

Then you have all the actors themselves with what I supposed are now known as "the original three". Neve Campbell has always perplexed me with how she has proceeded with her acting career. I remember around the time the second Scream was released that there was a lot of talk about her not wanting to reprise the role again for the third film in fear of being type cast in such a role in future projects. Well, here she is type casting herself by reprising the role for a fourth time. She still does Sydney just fine and although I have tired of her character with each new sequel she still remains as the series heart and soul. Arquette and Cox have always had great chemistry with each other on screen (although I hear their real life chemistry has kind of fallen apart sadly) and despite them not having very many scenes together I thought they still had the pulse of those characters nailed perfectly after all these years.

The film geeks of a new generation...they haven't changed much actually.

The rest of the cast were all fine for their roles, Emma Roberts as Jill not only looks eerily like a young Neve Campbell but also made a good new sympathetic victim for us to latch on to. Probably my favorite among all the new cast members though was Hayden Panettiere as Jill's best friend Kirby (I just love that name too). Her character was so full of energy and spunk compared to many of the other people here (including the original three) that she helped give me someone else to cheer for whenever that phone rang with a series of movie trivia questions awaiting on the other end. Which leads me into the person that has made Scream and all it's silly phone call conversations work so well, the voice (Roger Jackson). The ghost face voice is probably one of the creepiest voices ever committed to the silver screen. Whenever he talks to his victims he is so cold and calculated as he plays with them. Even though the killer in each Scream film has died at the end the voice has thankfully lived on. Without that voice this series I don't think would have lasted as long as it has.

While I think the film worked surprisingly well overall for a very late to the game sequel it still had some glaring issues that despite them being conceits of the horror genre still bothered me quite a bit. We know going in to a Scream film that we are going to witness some supposedly smart characters (one even spouts out their GPA as 4.0 and an IQ of 135) doing some very dumb things that will ultimately lead them to being killed. But there were so many bad decisions made by characters that really ought to know better that lead to a good number of people dying. It was somewhat forgivable in the first film when these murders were unexpected and new but here someone like Dewey should know that just putting a police car in front of a house with two not so bright officers in it will do nothing more than add extra victims to the list. You also have people splitting up and going out on their own with full knowledge that there is a killer in the midst that isn't targeting just anyone, but them specifically.

Jill must not be a horror movie never hide under the dam bed!

The large ensemble cast while really good in all their parts may have been a tad too much as well. By half way through the film there were at least a dozen or so characters that were all vying for some attention. They were being suffocated by just too dam many variables that were added to the ever increasing plot revelations. When we do finally get whittled down to a core group of characters by the end they are never given a chance to really breath. Many of the deaths in the original film and even its two sequels had much greater impact because we knew them and had been with them through quite a lot when their time was up. Here there are large chunks of the film dedicated to characters that we 1. don't really know 2. don't really like anyways and 3. don't give a shit about. While it is always fun to see a rotten person get their just desserts I would had rather been spending more time with Jill, Kirby or even the two film geeks instead.

Ultimately though it all worked out fine with a third act that was a proper and fitting end to the series. I truly hope they stop here because honestly I don't think they have much gas left in this franchise, at least not enough to keep any subsequent sequels in the same category of quality that these ones are in. If you are a fan of the original trilogy or just a fan of slasher films in general then I think you will find a lot to like here. It keeps you on your toes and guessing the whole way while entertaining you with some fairly grisly murders and some good laughs to ease the tension at just the right moments. If this is the last Scream film then I have to advise you to see it in the theaters. If not because you love the series then at least because this is one of the smartest slasher films filled with dumb characters you are likely to find for a long time to come.




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