April 16, 2011

Scream 4 (04/16/2011)

Lettergrade: C

The first Scream, released in 1996, smartly dissected horror movie cliches while simultaneously celebrating them with a fresh spin, but the thinly drawn follow-ups in conjunction with the countless irony-free knockoffs have taken the revival genre from smart to kinda standard. That goes double for Scream 4, coming ten years after the previous movie, which doesn't have much purpose or inspiration, really, apart from attempting to build up financial solvency for Bob and Harvey Weinstein's current company.

While Kevin Williamson's original script was a highly inventive novelty at the time, the writing on these subsequent entries has been pretty thin gruel. I was a junior in high school when part 1 hit. I remember seeing part 2 on video at some point, and part 3 on a date in college. I have very faint memories of what actually happened in all three movies, to be honest with you, and I think you can blame the glaring lack of substance for that. All the self-conscious quasi analysis is back for part 4, of course, but especially now that it's the fourth round, I'm not sure that acknowledging crappy movie conventions really gives you a pass to turn around and use many of them.

Other than a surprisingly charismatic Hayden Panettiere (pictured right), the victims-in-waiting don't leave much of an impression, and they're all disposed of in the same perfunctory manner: The Ghostface Killer lures his prey into a secluded area, and then administers a fatal stab with the same ease as a hot knife cutting through a room-temperature stick of butter. Death is always instant, no matter where the wound is (unless you're one of the leads, of course), and the other characters' reactions strictly range between indifferent shrugs and mild disappointment. Say what you will about Freddy Kruger, but every death in the Nightmare On Elm Street movies was at least creative, almost like a Warner Bros. cartoon where Freddy would show up in some silly costume, fire off a couple one-liners, and then get down to business.

As for the returning cast, Scream 4, like the other sequels, relies heavily on short-hand, counting on the audience to independently recall whatever affection we had for Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and most unjustifiably David Arquette in order to be invested in their survival now. The movie doesn't put much effort into winning you over in that regard: A couple times during this one, I wondered what makes Campbell's Sydney Prescott interesting apart from the fact that she has survived the previous movies. I never got an answer on that, but in the character's defense, she does seem pretty and nice.

As in the earlier movies, the identity of the person behind the Krazee-Eyes Killah mask is completely arbitrary and virtually meaningless, as if they shot the first 2/3rds of the movie, then picked the killer's name out of a hat and shot the rest. Although the movie is largely forgettable, I will say that once Scream 4's big secret is revealed, the scenes that followed were easily the most interesting and entertaining part of the flick. Of course it is still illogical and completely far-fetched, but at least the character's motivations constituted an actual fresh idea, the kind that I wish had been introduced earlier than 85 minutes into the movie.

The movie as a whole, though, is mostly like meeting up with a old friend from high school who you only kinda sorta remember. Although it's fun to look back, you should probably just exchange a few pleasantries on Facebook and leave it at that.

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