Scream 4

Scream 4

Film review by: Witney Seibold

Of course I was apprehensive. I’m often wary of sequels, especially sequels to movies I love, fraudulently made a decade after the fact. Wes Craven‘s “Scream,” especially, made in 1996, was such a loud voice in the horror genre, and codified the use of irony and self-awareness in popular culture; it was about teenagers who recognized that they were inside a horror movie-like situation. How could another “Scream” film be made in 2011, and still be significant or relevant in any way? After all, since the playful self-awareness of “Scream,” horror has seen several trends rise and fall. We’re in the midst of an unfortunate remake renaissance. Torture porn has come and, one can hope, gone. J-horror was the word of the day for a while. The horror film landscape has changed since 1996, and we now have a generation of half-interested internet junkies who are more interested in disconnected brutal violence than they are in cutesy slashers like “Scream.”

Thankfully, Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson have made probably the smartest return to the material they could have with “Scream 4,” an R-rated film that, while perhaps not as scary as it could have been, and perhaps having flaws in its basic whodunnit structure, managed to be smart about how self-reference has reached critical mass, and what young horror fans (both in the movie and in the audience) expect the characters to do. It’s really very good. The previous “Scream” films were savvy about pointing out what the basic rules for horror films and sequels were. In this film, the general consensus seems to be that there are no rules. And that everything must be captured online to be considered “real.”

The film’s opening is a doozy, using Dave Eggers-like tactics about referring to one’s being self-referential, and then commenting on the fact that one is referring to being self-referential. The irony, “Scream 4” seems to be saying, is nearly impenetrable these days. Williamson and Craven were wise about what they had made in 1996 and where it all stands today. Now everything must be commented on immediately. I mean heck, I write online movie reviews, and at this very moment, I’m feeling a little self-conscious about it. And you, in turn, are reading this review. We’re in this cycle together.

Our old surviving cast is still around: Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell, looking fantastic) is a wounded survivor who has written a book about women surviving trauma (which seems to be a theme throughout most of Craven’s films). Deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette) is still a kind of bumbling dork, but is now the town’s sheriff. He also still married to Gayle Weathers (Courtney Cox), who has retired from journalism, but still aches to write. As to not become too involved in the cycle of rehashing old plot details (especially some of the bizarro twists in “Scream 3”), we also have a new young cast to introduce, if only to provide a body count for the inevitable kills. There’s Sidney’s bland cousin Jill (Emma Roberts), who resembles Sidney in many ways. There’s Jill’s best friend Kirby (a very good Hayden Panettiere), her hot friend Olivia (Marielle Jaffe), a pair of AV nerds (Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen) who stand in for the film-savvy Randy from the first two “Scream” films, and there’s Jill’s ex-boyfriend Trevor (Nico Tortorella), who is set up as a suspect, meaning he clearly cannot ultimately be the killer.

There are also some small notable roles from Marley Shelton, Mary McDonnell and Alison Brie.

Yes, killings begin, a decade to the day after the last killings. It’s to “Scream 4’s” detriment that there is not a long list of potential suspects this time around; the killer’s identity is a mystery, but we never get the feeling that any of the characters were walking around amongst could be the killer. However, Craven proves that he’s such a strong director (and not just a horror director), that we do get a good sense of the universe that these characters inhabit. It’s not quite so good as “Scream” in this respect, but the effect is still there.

In this universe, the original “Scream” was adapted into a series of films-with-the-film called “Stab.” The “Stab” franchise is now on part 7, and the local kids all love the films. The content of the “Stab” movies are now under intense scrutiny by the characters, and the killer, knowing how s/he will be seen, is careful to model the killings on the films, and also film them for instant broadcast on the internet. This is not as trite as is sounds.

I can’t describe too much else without giving away vital plot details, or revealing who the killer might be, suffice to say the film’s finale does a good job of laying on it’s comment, while keeping the film thrilling. Whether or not you guessed who the killer was is beyond the point. The point is why the killer is doing what they are doing. The killer’s motivations are in-keeping with the spirit of the modern internet-generation’s idiom.

But I don’t want this film to sound like it’s merely a hipster exercise in ouroboros analytics. It’s also a pretty solid film. It may not be as scary as “Scream,” and it may not be as richly character driven as the best of the genre, but it’s one of the more intelligent horror films I’ve seen in a long while, and, coming from the “Scream” franchise, that’s only appropriate.

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Published in: on April 15, 2011 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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