California Literary Review

Movie Review: Scream 4


April 16th, 2011 at 12:36 pm

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Movie Poster: Scream 4

Scream 4

Directed by Wes Craven
Screenplay by Kevin Williamson

Anna Paquin as Rachel
Kristen Bell as Chloe
Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott
David Arquette as Dewey Riley
Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers-Riley
Emma Roberts as Jill Roberts
Hayden Panettiere as Kirby Reed

Running time: 111 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some teen drinking.

CLR Rating: ★★★½☆

Movie Still: Scream 4

Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell star in Scream 4.
Photo by: Gemma La Mana / Dimension Films

New decade, same old rules…but fortunately that’s a good thing.

Scream 4’s tagline “New decade, new rules” may be specious. The rules of surviving a slasher film are the same as they’ve always been – don’t drink or do drugs, don’t have sex, and never say “I’ll be right back,” or you’ll end up the next victim with your guts on the floor. Fortunately though, horror master Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson’s reunion brings back the same wit, glee, and panache of, if not the original movie, at least the second one. (Let’s forget Scream 3 ever happened, shall we?)

Avid horror fans have been waiting with bated breath for the fourth Scream movie, though we’ve mostly been reaching furtively out of our closet to high five each other. In 2000 hack writer Ehren Kruger apparently murdered the franchise with the third flick (but they always get back up, didn’t you know?). For the last decade fans of the original have been pretty sheepish about their love of the movie that brought slashers back to the big screen with a gush of blood and a tragedy mask you can now find on every costume shop’s wall around October. We flocked to midnight screenings and matinees of this weekend’s release, hoping it would be fun despite its well-publicized script and cast changes. Luckily, though it won’t be the year’s biggest hit, Scream 4 is sure to please.

Williamson, who also wrote for “Dawson’s Creek,” is a film geek. Craven is a well-documented horror nerd. The Scream movies are for film geeks and horror nerds alike (and the two intersect approximately 90% of the time). Although even film geeks will grow weary of the series’ pervasive meta-commentary on horror, verbose teenagers, and society’s ills. On the other hand, the horror genre in the last fifteen years is rife with remakes, foreign imports, and sequels – and it’s been begging for someone to place it under a magnifying glass. Who better than Craven and Williamson, who rebooted the slasher film in the first place?

Scream 4 returns our original Final Girl Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) to Woodsboro, California, an idyllic, wealthy town bursting with pretty teenage knife-bait and crawling with bumbling cops. Fans of the original will revel in Marco Beltrami’s familiar basso, choral composition and the recognizable columned entrance to Woodsboro High. Reporter Gail Weathers (Courteney Cox) chronicled the events of the first Scream movie in a gratuitous exposé that was immediately repurposed in the movies into a fictional film series called Stab. Movies don’t create psychos, movies only make psychos more creative – and the Stab series helped to mold a brand spanking new Ghostface, although in the end not an innovative one. Each movie in the series begins with a murder, and Scream 4 ups that ante. Sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and wife Gail strive to unmask the killer even as the bodies pile up. (And famous bodies they are: Hayden Panettiere, Kristen Bell, Anna Paquin, Aimee Teegarden, Adam Brody, Alison Brie, Anthony Anderson, and Mary McDonnell grace the credits.) Sidney’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) has a sassy blond friend, Kirby (Panettiere), who’s distinctly reminiscent of Rose McGowan’s Tatum in the first film. Jill’s creepy ex-boyfriend Trevor (Nico Tortorella) lurks around every corner much like Scream’s spookshow boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich). Sidney, one of the three survivors of the original murders, is aptly termed the Angel of Death because, well, brutal casualties follow in her wake. Things are, it appears, as they should be for a reboot.

The new Scream is a whodunit, and whether you’re the type to spend the whole movie struggling to figure out who’s behind the Ghostface mask or just like to take it all in, the end result will probably surprise you. Williamson and Craven have both made less-than-stellar films (Teaching Mrs. Tingle or Vampire in Brooklyn, anyone?), but combine the two talents and you have a smartly paced, cleverly written, and tonally even movie. Scream 4 delivers all the right lines with the correct timing and rarely slows enough to become tedious. Aside from the Ghostface reveal, there are no great revelations, no fancy death footwork (although there is more gore in Scream 4 than we’ve seen in awhile). But as one of the characters says, why bother with the ridiculous complexity of torture-porn when you can simply have a crazy villain offing people with a knife? The movie tries too hard to make a statement about our current obsession with “reality”-based entertainment and YouTube sensations, but the point is there for the taking; Paranormal Activity and Justin Bieber are a part of pop culture whether we like it or not.

Williamson repurposes older material, tweaking it just enough to entertain us. Horror film nerds are almost always male (an obnoxious phenomenon), and the ladies will be pleasantly surprised to see Kirby whip out serious classic horror knowledge. Edgar Wright’s brilliant zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead gets much-deserved recognition, Williamson pokes fun at Robert Rodriguez (with whom he’s worked multiple times), and Dario Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria gets a shout-out. In Scream 4 we have the same old tropes: a big breasted blond running up the stairs when she should be going out the front door, a masked killer with a stupid motive, a Final Girl, and too much self-awareness. But those of us who love the original for just those things will be absolutely delighted to see the 4th film blow the 3rd out of the water.

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Scream 4 Trailer

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