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A New Beginning?

Scream 4 (2011)

Eleven years after the Scream trilogy ended with a dull whimper in Scream 3 the franchise is back. Wes Craven again directs (he has so far helmed all of the Scream films) and stars Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette (the main trio from the first three installments) also return. And I am happy to say that Kevin Williamson is once again (having penned Scream and Scream 2) responsible for the script. You will remember (won’t you?) that Ehren Kruger wrote the less than stellar Scream 3. I am very pleased Williamson has returned to the fray and even if Kruger did do touch up work on Scream 4 (as some have said) only Williamson gets a screenwriting credit.

Perennial survivor Sidney Prescott (Campbell, who shines) has written a memoir about her numerous experiences with the Ghostface killer(s) – she’s been targeted three times now – all the way from high school to Hollywood. Her book is a bestseller and her final stop on her book tour is back to where it all began – her hometown of Woodsboro. Oh, yeah, and it is the anniversary of the original murders. Deputy Dewey (Arquette) has become Sheriff Dewey and is married to ex-journalist Gale Weathers (Cox) – who penned her own bestseller about the killings, it being adapted into the movie Stab, which spawned six sequels.

Surprisingly, Sidney is barely back in Woodsboro long enough to finish her appearance at the local bookstore before the bodies begin piling up. And we have a whole new cast of characters to contend with – and suspect. Mary McDonell (given far too little screen time) as Sidney’s aunt, Sidney’s young cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) with whom Sidney appears to have more than a few things in common, Marley Shelton as Deputy Hicks, Adam Brody as Deputy Hoss, Alison Brie as Sidney’s comic relief publicist – and Jill’s gaggle of horror obsessed high school pals played by a trope of young Hollywood hotlets. My favorite new addition is Hayden Panettiere – though sporting a questionable hairstyle, her character, Kirby Reed, is a gem. This is probably my favorite set of Scream characters since the original – though I have major soft spots for Parker Posey in the third installment (she being one of the few reasons to actually watch it) and the sorority sisters played by Rebecca Gayheart and Portia de Rossi in Scream 2.

Yeah, yeah, you say – so it is any good or what? I really enjoyed it. Scream 4 does manage to justify the resurrection of the series after so much time. It also provides a hell of a social commentary on the age we’re living in – and it gets in some nice digs at the current state of the horror film, too. It works, it is fun and while it never feels as weighty as the first two, it doesn’t come across as just a tossed off, mediocre ploy to pull in a profit either. Yet, there are some areas where it is lacking. Gale is sorely missing through most of the action after a stab wound lands her in the hospital. The main narrative thrust of the film – this being a new generation with remakes all the rage, the new Ghostface is making a “reboot” – while an interesting idea, is handled too casually and never fully realized. Also, with so many new characters, some suffer from underdevelopment and at times come too close to horror film stereotype, by doing things which are less than intelligent – but their behavior is never really senseless or annoying enough to make you hope for their demise. And the final FINAL showdown in the ICU is over baked and too similar to other scenes in recent horror.

However these are mostly minor quibbles and what the filmmakers get right far outweigh the flaws. There is a corker of an opening that has something to say about everything from the Saw movies to the Scream franchise’s own inherent cliches. The big reveal is really something – it is amazingly well done and cuts deep. This is the best denouement since the first film and it packs a sucker punch of immediacy and relevance – it is quite ingenious and satisfying. The kill scenes raise the bar on violence in the series and are threaded with a brutal nihilism that makes them feel fresh and startling. I dug the Möbius strip meta-ness and the pop culture allusions – that is part of the charm of the Scream films and the humor is balanced quite proportionally with the horror. This rightly should have been part three as it provides the most logical and seamless close to the series. But with two more sequels apparently planned, this is a better than it has any right to be beginning of a potential new trilogy. Hopefully the filmmakers can maintain this degree of enjoyability and effectiveness. B


5 responses to “A New Beginning?

  1. James May 18, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Yeah, Sidney was just so vague in Scream 3. And don’t even get me started on Gale’s fringe.
    As you know, much of Scream 3’s ‘lesser-ness’ is attributed to Ehren Kruger’s tepid script. It leaned more towards the comedic than the horrific, and the film suffers because of it. It lacks tension. Big time. But it DOES have Parker Posey in it! 😉

    And you’re right about her clothes being like the ones she was wearing at the end of Scream 2! I love Scream 2.

    And I was totally sober when I made the point about the intestine shot! I just remembered reading about how annoyed Wes Craven was that they were forced to cut that shot in the original. Seeing the girl on the bed and the aftermath of her attack just made me think “Did Craven do this deliberately?” I’m sure he did. Well, I’d like to think he did.

    “Goddamn that Paul, him and his wilderness bullshit!!”

  2. James April 29, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    I really enjoyed Scre4m (as the kids are calling it), but felt it could have been a little more daring. I loved the opening scene but wasn’t a big fan of the ending (I hated the killer and their motive). There were some pretty cool set pieces – like Sidney’s PA menaced in a multi-story carpark, and I really dug all the little nods to Dario Argento’s work. A vast improvement on Scr3am (see what I did there?) – and it was like catching up with old friends seeing Dewey, Sidney and Gale again.

    Oh, and I’m totally with you regarding Ms Posey in Scream 3. She was by far the best thing about it. “Gale Weathers would find a way…” 😉

    • itallhappensinthedark April 29, 2011 at 5:53 pm

      I really liked it and yet I also agree it could have been more daring. The opening scene (scenes?) were super fun and witty. I do have to disagree about the ending however – I totally loved it and the killer(s) and the motive(s). It may actually be my favorite reveal and “this is why I did it” of the entire series. I wonder what that says about me? I wasn’t surprised by who it was, but I thought the reason was pretty topical and provocative. The parking garage segment was enjoyable as was the publicist character but that scene also bothered me on a basic horror level – she had her phone! Why didn’t she call 911? The police were right outside! Why did she get out of the car?! The only Argento nods I noticed were when the killer put a victim through the window and when the killer told Sidney he was going to cut her eyelids in half so she she would have to watch when he stabbed her in the face – that remark definitely made me think of “Opera.” Were there others? What did I miss? I was happy to see all the main cast again but I felt that Gale kind of got shafted in terms of her storyline. Watching it a second time I realized she was in the movie far more than I thought, but her scenes just didn’t feel as essential or memorable as they have in the other films.

      • James May 17, 2011 at 12:51 pm

        You know, the more I think about Scream 4, the more I love it and realise that it is actually a pretty clever film. In terms of the series, I think it follows on perfectly from the others – though I do agree with you about Gale – and Dewey actually – they seemed to sink into the background. Even Sidney didn’t seem as prominent as she had been. I guess that was just Craven and Williamson attempting to introduce us to the ‘new blood.’ Also, the more I think about the killer/s and their motive/s, the more I believe I was a little hasty in damning them.
        I like that the unexpected has become the new thing in horror. While I still feel this film could have been more adventurous and daring, it was pretty good for the fourth film in a series that should arguably have remained a trilogy.

        The main Argento reference I can remember was when Ghostface throws a girl through a window and she hangs on the broken glass ala Helga in Deep Red… Also, Scream 4 was WAY more violent and aggressive than any of the other films – especially coming after the rather beige Scream 3… I’m convinced the shot of Ghostface on the bed stabbing that girl so much her insides fall out, was a reference to the cut shot in the first Scream when Steve is gutted on the porch… Or am I just drunk? 😉

        Great review Cody. Now lets go skinny dipping!

      • itallhappensinthedark May 17, 2011 at 5:43 pm

        Oh, this made me so happy to read! I agree that Dewey definitely didn’t have as much to do this time around either. Sidney was probably in the same boat but for some reason I just FELT her more in this one. I know this isn’t the case but her role in the third film seemed to me almost to be a glorified cameo – and I just didn’t dig the character as much in that installment. In Scream 4 it seemed like she was revitalized and back in the game – in Scream 3 it just seemed like she was taking too much Paxil. (And I STILL don’t get why she showed up at the police station in part three sporting the same outfit she had on during the finale of the second film.) The trio definitely had to compete with the “new blood” for screentime – which I didn’t think made much sense in the end, considering nearly all of the newbies were iced.

        This one was definitely more violent and aggressive – and I totally dug that, even if it the rest of the film didn’t push the limits as much as it should have. And I thought the same thing about the intestine shot – though I can’t say with conviction one way or another if you were drunk when you were writing. Should I take the winky eye emoticon as a sign? 😛

        I’ll meet you at the lake. Beware of bears. And Paul’s wilderness traps.

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