Tuesday, April 19, 2011

664 - Scream 4 review

You know a film franchise has had a great cultural impact when its minor characters in a new installment have their own Wikipedia pages a day after the opening. The “Scream” series, which in 1996 lit a fuse that resulted in an explosion of studio horror films continuing to the present, had Wikipedia pages explaining the new film’s every twist and turn before nightfall on opening day.

“Scream 4,” or “Scre4m” should you feel so inclined, continues its predecessors’ tradition of horror film literate teens falling victim to a serial murderer wearing a ghost mask. The killer usually calls to taunt his or her victims first, using a voice scrambler that gives the speaker a deliciously evil inflection (actually the sound of voice actor Roger L. Jackson). One of the first signs that times have changed a bit since the original film: when it comes to disguising your voice before committing a murder, there’s an app for that.

When we rejoin Sidney (Neve Campbell), the series’ protagonist tormented by a seemingly never-ending series of murderers upset about her promiscuous mother, she’s returning to a hometown to peddle a self-help book about her experiences. One might think that a survivor of multiple slasher films would be better off writing a straight memoir, but never mind. Courtney Cox and David Arquette return as Gale and Dewey, now married, just in time for the actors that play them to get a divorce.

The town treats the 15-year-old murders of the original film with a degree of perverse reverence, which indicates great tolerance on behalf of the kinfolk and friends of the original film’s victims. The series’ trio soon find themselves treading familiar ground when the killings resume, this time targeted at a new group of incredibly handsome and pretty high school students.

With that, a new batch of characters is introduced, all of whom serve one of two functions: to kill or be killed. These characters continue about their routine, not letting a bloodbath in which they are obvious targets affect their film analysis or wild parties. It never seems to occur to anyone that a baseball bat or a firearm might be a wise investment in the face of certain death, that is, since they obviously aren’t compelled to flee the town. After one encounter in which Sidney kicks the masked murderer in the face, something occurred to me: to solve the crime, which not check out which of the suspects has an unexplained broken nose? Dewey clearly hasn’t spent much of that ten year break between films to brush up on detective work (or marksmanship).

Consider this: the “Scream” films are known for their verbose, film savvy characters that continually analyze the scenarios they find themselves experiencing. With that, we’re served with constant postmodern commentary on film itself, usually making jokes at the expense of the genre. That said, the characters proceed to behave as idiotically as the same characters they’re mocking from other films. With a knife-wielding maniac on the loose, they split up, investigate suspicious noises, run upstairs instead of outside, fail to arm themselves, neglect to call the police, and so forth. These characters clearly know their stuff when it comes to film, so, if not motivated by survival instinct, how about mimicking cinematic survivors? There might be a commentary by the filmmakers in there somewhere, but it’s lost in the blood flow. Now, does acknowledging that you’re a hypocrite then relieve oneself of contempt, or make the sins worse? A clever joke can lose its luster when the teller constantly winks and nudges you with his elbow.

Still, these pictures aren’t really popular because the fans adore the slick meta-commentary, though this entry seems more interested in new technology that actual film trends. There’s a palatable desire amongst fans for the Jump! moments and intestine shredding carnage that these splatterfests deliver, and I’m hard pressed to think of a franchise in my lifetime that provides such with this level of sleekness and prestige. Director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson could do this sort of thing in their sleep, and fortunately, decide to stay awake for most of it.

This incarnation even has a sort of underhanded bleakness that I didn’t notice before, as a post-viewing body count will reveal that almost all of the characters met a grisly demise. And, in a refreshing change of pace from one particularly gross horror movie trend that this film briefly pokes fun at, no one gets tortured to death by an elaborate machine. Thank goodness for traditional stabbings.

2.5 out of 5


Christian Toto said...

I wasn't bored, but I wasn't impressed, either. It's not really clever to mock a genre that's already been mocked to death. That's what we have here. Nothing new to see here, folks, move along. I did enjoy Arquette's bumbling cop, but the story is so stuffed with new, bland characters we spend too little time with him.

James said...

You know, I was thinking the same thing about Arquette; he hardly had anything to do with the story, usually just responding to emergency calls. No more scenes for Dewey?

Also, spoiler alert, it was interesting that every new character sans the deputy died. Doesn't look like there will be any sequels due to low sales, but they'd have to start over again if there was!