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Friday, April 22, 2011

Scream 4 (Release Date: 4-15-2011)

        In a world riddled with sequel after sequel, Scream 4 actually stands as something slightly unique. Scream 3 was released back in 2000, the gap between the two being far greater than that of most sequels, but not nearly as long as many long-belated forth entries (Indiana Jones, Star Wars, etc.). The unfamiliar gap between the movies sees Scream 4 walking a tight-rope strung up between genuine sequel and reboot. And while most film series struggle through three chapters, let alone four, the horror genre seems to be a bit of an outlier. Four movies might be kind of a lot, but it's nothing compared to seven (Saw), nine (A Nightmare on Elm Street), ten (Halloween), or twelve (Friday the 13th). In other words, Scream 4 deserves its existence; It's an interesting property at an intriguing point in time, and by genre standards, its a far cry from done to death. Now all it needs to do is be good.

        The same eleven years that have transpired in real life since Scream 3 have passed in the lives of Sidney, Dewey, and Gail. The later two (David Arquette and Courteney Cox, respectively) are now happily married, Dewey the Woodsboro Chief-of-Police, Gail the author of a famous series of books about the Ghostface murders. Sidney (Neve Campbell) has become an author as well, and as the movie opens, she is rounding out the promotional tour for her new self-help novel in the small town that started it all. Unfortunately for Sidney, she is the only person in the universe that isn't aware of the fact that her coming to Woodsboro necessitates that some new sicko dawn the mask, and this time is no different. A string of brutal stabbings is set into motion, and it's up to Dewey and Gail to stop the sleigher before he finally gets to Sidney and the unsuspecting high schoolers in the area (Emma Roberts and Hayden Panettiere, among others).

        Without spoiling too much, Scream 4 begins with an extended sequence that wholly and completely obliterates any notion that the movie doesn't know exactly what it is. The notions of repetition, overkill, torture porn vs. suspense scares, and filmic and/or sequel rules are all put out into the open, no holds barred. The Scream series has always been pretty meta, commenting on exactly what it is smack dab in the middle of its runtime, but the latest entry sees this tendency to new heights that one might not have thought possible. On one hand, this lends it with a particularly accomplished B-movie feel, serving as a steady safe-guard against the rolling of eyes. On the other, it just about eliminates any sense of fear or dread through-out the movie. This is not so much a critic as an observation; the movie doesn't really even try to scare its viewers, which is a shame. The best moments of the original series were all about messing with expectations, hiding wether each new scene was designed to elicit laughs or shouts until the last possible moment. This one functions almost exclusively in the realms of comedy and parody.

        There's real no point in discussing the performances of the original three members of the cast. If you've seen any of the originals, you know exactly how their characters act and react, and nothing at all has changed (and if you haven't seen the originals, you would be wise to avoid Scream 4's avalanche of self-reference). The movie's teens, lambs to the slaughter as always, also give familiar turns, Erik Knudsen and Rory Culkin stepping into the kids-who-describe-the-rules-of-horror-movies roles with little effort, Panettiere playing spoiled, horny high schooler with the greatest of ease. When the more dramatic/defining moments come to pass, Roberts flounders more than the rest, but for a movie of its type, Scream 4 boasts of an ensemble found in campy paradise.

        What makes Scream 4 a somewhat difficult movie to review is the fact that, outside of its increased levels of humor and self-awareness, it's a movie that we've all seen already. While many sequels and reboots tend to re-trace the steps of their predecessors, S4 often borders on being a remake of the original, individual scenes and characters directly lifted from one movie to another, the story arch hitting each and every single one of the same beats. The comedic aspects make it seem like a take-down more often than not, and one wonders if there isn't a little bit of frustration behind the film's endless pleas that we understand Scream 4 as a trivial thing, and consequently treat it as such. Trust me, you won't have any trouble obliging. Perhaps more so in the case of this movie than any other that I have reviewed before it, my recommendation all comes down to your desires. If you're pining for another ride on the Scream machine, you won't be disappointed. If you're wavering, I'd save my money.

Grade: C+

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