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Review: Scream 4 (2011)

SCREAM 4

Rating

Director
Wes Craven
Screenplay
Kevin Williamson
Length
111 min.
Starring
Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courtney Cox, Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts, Marielle Jaffe, Marley Shelton, Erik Knudsen, Rory Culkin, Nico Tortorella, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, Mary McDonnell
MPAA Rating
R for strong bloody violence, language and some teen drinking.

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Review
So, it's a bit of a cliché question now, but what's your favorite scary movie? If you answer Scream 4, then I'd have to point you back to the first two editions in the series and any number of other better, scarier films. However, Scream 4 is a nice homage to itself and fans of the series should enjoy a number of the film's more unique elements.

11 years after the last film in the franchise, but dated only ten, Scream 4 opens in traditional fashion (based on the first two, not third film) with a young girl slaughtered mercilessly by crazed killer Ghostface. Only this time, it's not just one girl. The idea of the opening sequence is to get the audience energized for the rest of the film and it does an adequate job, though the interaction between Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell is far more impressive than the rest of the intro. The film begins as Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) arrives in Woodsboro to sign autographs of her new book about surviving and moving on from the famous incidents chronicled in the first three films of the franchise. The other two survivors of those films, Dewey Riley (David Arquette) who was has risen from Deputy to Sheriff and his now-wife Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) who retired from sensational journalism, are still kicking and ready to be kicked a few more times by a new serial killer (or killers) building a legacy not only on the famous murders, but the successful series of Stab films based on those events chronicled in a series of books and articles by Weathers.

Along for the ride and ripe for the picking are a number of young actors each competing to either be revealed as the killer or stalked as a victim. Emma Roberts leads the terrorized pack as Sidney's cousin Jill, a horror-averse teenager awkwardly trying to fend off advances from her ex-boyfriend Trevor (Nico Tortorella). While Roberts does an exemplary job, I can only imagine what a more talented actress like semi-namesake Emma Stone might have done with the part. Her two best friends are also available for the cutting board: Olivia (Marielle Jaffe), a vain, self-obsessed pretty girl who gets very little character development, but reminds me of any number of saucy vamps from the Halloween films; and Kirby (Hayden Panettiere), a horror addict who secretly crushes on a fellow film club member and hides it with subtle mockery. That fellow film club member, Charlie (Rory Culkin) and his live-vlogging pal Robbie (Erik Knudsen) are obvious suspects, meaning it's likely they won't even be involved, but I'll be going political here and neither confirm nor deny that.

Matter of fact, half the fun of the film is watching how experienced horror master Wes Craven puts forth any number of false leads from love-struck deputy Judy (Marley Shelton) to Sidney's money-hungry publicist Rebecca (Alison Brie). He even tries to put Sidney forward as a possible killer early in the film before abandoning her quickly as the carry-over survivor put-upon by knife-wielding maniacs. Craven hasn't lost most of his touch, though he does lose of his actors along the way. Cox and Arquette have a handful of painful scenes together and any time Arquette and Campbell talk, it's like they are reading drafts across a table for the first time. The young cast does more to shore up the performance level in the film than the elder stars. Besides the aforementioned Robert, Panettiere is quite effective in a number of her scenes and I dig her new hairdo, though the '80s shoulder pads must go.

The film takes a number of scenes from the first film, and sticks them into this fourth one. Since it's the rebirth of the franchise starting a new trilogy it almost seems appropriate and far be it from Craven to deny fans these little Easter eggs. His use of parallel elements worked tremendously well in his A New Nightmare more than a decade ago. The film goes to great lengths to explain the need to break away from the old series and move on new paths. After all, as one character explains just after the mid-point of the film, modern horror films must turn the genre on its ear to appeal to new fans and succeed. While the film retains a number of traditional elements, the use of smartphones and internet-ready video production are ever-present and there are three or four twists at the end that keep the audience on their toes.

One thing that struck me hard near the beginning of the film is how old a number of the principles looked. Cox, Arquette and Campbell have all aged a bit deal since the first three films. You can see it in the maturity of their faces. They are no longer the ingenues riding high on young careers. They are experienced actors carrying on despite being too old for the burgeoning audiences that are entering the slasher genre today. Even Paquin and Bell from the opening scenes look much older than I remember. By highlighting their age, Craven has made a comment about the aging of the slasher genre. There are several films referenced in the movie by name when Kirby pits her vast knowledge against the killer; and considering the first modern slasher flick was just over 50 years ago (Peeping Tom opened in April of 1960 in the U.K. while Psycho premiered a scarce two months later in June in New York City), it's an even more humbling commentary. The medium must constantly reinvent itself or die out, which is why slasher films have evolved so much over the years, but not necessarily in terms of quality.

Although Craven does a fine job holding onto the past and introducing the future, he shows us just how much he wants to keep things rooted in the past and not let it get too far from its origins. He even takes studios to task for greenlighting any number of remakes instead of sequels as a way to revitalize the genre. This is likely a result of the abomination they made of his A Nightmare on Elm Street just last year, but also is a rebuke of the desire to tamper with originals of any number of other films. He does a lot of self-reiteration here as I referenced earlier, but those elements aren't as wildly adapted as in other recent remakes. They are self-aware decisions not attempts to milk the past for all its worth. He reminds us of what came before and that we shouldn't forget. If just one of every ten new fans this film brings in were to go back and watch any one or more of those old classics, perhaps a greater appreciation of what came before would give studios the impetus to not dredge the past, but forge a future.

While Scream 4 doesn't entirely live up to expectations, it's hard to know what those expectations would have been. After all, eleven years is a long time between entries in a franchise, which permits the audience to forget a lot of what made the first films so special. However, time also gives those who've aged along with the film's leads a chance to reminisce and think back to the first films and remember them fondly.
Review Written
April 24, 2011

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