Sunday 24 April 2011

Review: Scream 4

Year: 2011
Director: Wes Craven
Screenplay: Kevin Williamson
Starring: David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere

Synopsis is here

The problem with Scream 4 was always going to be relevance.  Scream's popularity brought forth a slew of similar, self-aware, teeny-bopper slashers all with their own little "thing" to make them feel a little different. Do you remember Cherry Falls? I know what you did last summer? Urban Legends? I doubt those films or other would have seen the light of day if it weren't for Craven and Williamson. By the time the third instalment came around, the series felt more than a little stale. Scream 3 (2000) limped out in the same year as Scary Movie, which in itself was a spoof of a set of films that were of course, send ups themselves. Still it goes further. Scream defined horror films in such a way that even now nearly every mainstream horror film has a post-modern slant; be it retro chic or a remake, there is nearly always a wink or a nod to something else. In essence Scream not only borrowed from the genre, it became assimilated into the DNA itself, even Saw's "game playing" and torture sequences seem to be extended aspects of the deaths of Casey and her boyfriend Steve from that first (brilliant) opening moment.

With the horror film once again feeling like it may have to fall into a transition stage (when doesn't it) what can this forth film bring to the table? Unfortunately not as much as one would hope in this bloggers opinion. Scream 4 opens strongly with an opening ten minutes that once again placed me in the mood for slash happy fun and nearly finishes on a interestingly nihilistic note that reminds one of Craven's Last House days. However what we have in-between is a talkie middle that has none of the zing that made Scream what it was in the first place. Characters mention rules and hint about the state of horror films but the film doesn't bother to incorporate such aspects as well as it could. In an age of reboots and remakes, found footage and so called torture porn, Craven and Williamson refuse to let loose. In fact Scream 4 has such a by the book feel at times that I began to wonder if that was the largest irony.

Much of this is to do with the characters, the actors who played them and the story itself. The likes of Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Illard and Jamie Kennedy aren't the best thespians in the world, but their approach to the material was enough to keep you ticking over; as was Williamson's screenplay, which was crafty in its creation, wrapping a sad melodrama around a knowing wit and a tightly structured horror whodunit. Scream 4's hack, slash, next approach and overload of characters doesn't leave time to make these characters worth watching this time round. this leaves us stuck with a bunch of pretty uninteresting mix of red herrings and victims that really do feel like they're waiting for Ghostface than anything else.

An attempt to cover such cracks are covered with some genuinely brutal set pieces which do hit home as does some of the more meta moments. Meanwhile the films climax isn't perfect in it's execution, but the motive behind the murders is quite revealing in its cynicism and provide the most interesting commentary within the film.

The acting is a mixed bag with David Arquette and Hayden Panettiere being the most noteworthy. Arquette in particular feels more in sync with proceedings with a more understated performance than his earlier, goofier entries. Neve Campbell and Courney Cox have a pretty thankless task (the script also doesn't know what to do fully with the Gail Weathers character) while everyone else are pretty brutal to be honest (although the younger actors at least look high school age).

Craven's direction comes across as uneven and the material in that we get interesting plays on duality, unexpected daytime scares and a warmer look visually to proceedings. However, the lack of full on anger and energy within the films conversational middle is very noticeable. There's a world weary bagginess that is felt around certain aspects and Craven; a man who tries his best to only go back to the well when he has something to say, is let down by a script which feels pieced together from two different films.

Scream 4 does enough work for the hardcore fans to love it unbiasly, however it may come across as too pedestrian to those who think that Saw is the way forward and new fans may wonder what the fuss would be about. Scream 4 has more than enough kills for gore hounds, however, one may find self aware solace in dusting off the original feature.