15 April 2011

Movie Review: Scream 4


B+

Scream 4
2011, 111mins, 15
Director: Wes Craven
Writer: Kevin Williamson
Cast includes: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin
UK Release Date: 15th April 2011


It’s been over a decade since 2000’s “Scream 3”, the world’s thirst for pictures featuring the iconic Ghostface having dried up right alongside it. However thanks to Hollywood’s consistent inability to produce fresh ideas, we now have “Scream 4”, a random and mostly unwanted continuation of this once proud franchise. I remain unconvinced that “Scream 4” was needed, but it is a surprisingly well executed and entertaining sequel none the less. Taking the same post modernist slant as its predecessors, “Scream 4” brings Ghostface back to the big screen with style. It boasts an intriguing mystery, witty dialogue and some fairly uncompromising kills, a concoction of positives I wasn’t anticipating this movie to possess.

On the anniversary of the Woodsboro murders, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) decides to visit her sleepy old hometown, the once tormented teen now there to promote her life affirming self-help book. However it doesn’t take long for Ghostface to resurface, Sidney is barely back before a selection of lovely teens are taunted and butchered. Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and his investigative spouse Gale (Courtney Cox) are determined to solve the crimes, but not before Ghostface actively threatens Sidney, her cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and many of the local High School students. This time the rules are different, the horror genre having evolved, meaning that 21st Century insights and new filmic trends will be vital in stopping the masked lunatic.

I’m a big fan of 1996’s “Scream”, and have more time for its sequels than most, but I was thoroughly prepared to despise “Scream 4”. The omens weren’t good from the start; Craven’s directorial output has become incredibly patchy in recent times, which combined with reported artistic disputes during the film’s production made me fear for the worst. Yet somehow “Scream 4” emerges a confident winner, filled with many of the same assets that made the original picture so much fun. It’s perhaps a tad overstuffed with characters (seriously, two or three could have been chopped without damaging the product), but it generally operates well as a slick, sick and sporadically perceptive dissection of modern horror cinema.

The screenplay from Williamson (with unofficial rewrites from Ehren Kruger) is pretty decent, providing a gripping whodunit with welcome lashings of pop culture parody. Like the initial effort, “Scream 4” actually has something intelligent to say, culminating its ideas brilliantly during the movie’s unpredictable final reveal. The film even has the decency to poke fun at its own ironic lampooning of horror tropes, using the fictional “Stab” franchise to lambast the self aware style with which characters in Williamson’s universe interact. It’s all a big Meta-joke, but at least it’s a funny one. “Scream 4” also reserves punches in the gut for the recent boom in horror remakes (intriguing to observe 2010’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and 2009’s “Last House on the Left” getting a mention here) and the now waning Torture Porn movement. On both counts I approved.

The narrative could have used with a slight clipping, but Craven keeps things moving at an endearing pace, injecting admirable degrees of suspense into the stalk and slash sequences. “Scream 4” is probably the most reliably gruesome of the saga so far, reveling in intense bloodshed for the majority of its overcooked running. Characters are disemboweled, stabbed and mutilated, Ghostface retaining his core ferociousness. Of course there are several cheeky phone conversations to endure, but the villain still has an intensity to him, which thankfully allows “Scream 4” to be fairly scary in chunks.

Williamson and Craven ensure this new installment takes note of how voyeuristic society has become, referencing social networking and the world’s newfound obsession with video blogging, massaging these themes softly yet effectively into the storyline. Not every wink and nudge to the audience works, but as a general rule “Scream 4” is clever without being irritating. The cast includes a mixture of old (Campbell, Cox, Arquette) and new (Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts, Rory Culkin), everyone doing at least a tolerable job with their respective role. It is clear that “Scream 4” has been overly fattened, there are too many underdeveloped characters clawing for oxygen within its 111 minute frame. However that’s probably my biggest concern with the feature, and given the variety of things that could have gone wrong, I’d consider it no more than a moderately frustrating quibble.

The finale goes on forever, but is made acceptable thanks to both its shock logic and attempt to comment sensibly on the mindset of today’s hot young things. There are enough credible red herrings to steer viewers in the wrong direction, allowing the major revelation at the end to both alarm and satisfy. “Scream 4” is a really enjoyable diversion, and one of the sharper popcorn pictures I’ve seen recently. I’m certainly not gunning for “Scream 5”, but “Scream 4” is a worthy mixture of thriller and pastiche all the same.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

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