APRIL 11, 2011
I’ve become such a spoilerphobe as of late that I went ahead and turned off anonymous questions on Formspring in case anyone decided to ruin Scream 4 for me just to be a dick (I’ve since turned it back on! Troll away!). I’ve also avoided pretty much every news article and trailer that I could (I saw the first trailer, once, months ago), which resulted in me winding myself from laughing so hard at a particular joke that was actually in the trailer. I didn’t even know Adam Brody or Mary McDonnell were in the movie until they showed up. A far cry from where I was when Scream 2 came out, where I found/read the script beforehand and asked somebody who was coming out of the previous showing who the killer was and if Randy still died.
But again, this is due to my spoilerphobe nature – not a lack of interest. Indeed, it’s the most excited I’ve been for a sequel in ages, and I was really looking forward to seeing the three returning characters (Sid, Dewey, and Gale) again, and more importantly, seeing how Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson (filtered through Ehren Kruger yet again – of all the writers in Hollywood, WHY HIM?) tackled the horror genre all over again. Unlike when the other sequels came out, the horror genre is in a very different place than it was when the first Scream was released, and I was quite eager to see how these guys would tackle torture porn, found footage, Asian ghost girls, and of course, remake/reboots.
Well, except for the latter, they really don’t do much of anything about it. The extent of the “satirizing” of these sub-genres is seen in the trailer (literally, just that one line reference from the Randy-wannabe character). There’s a bit more to the found footage aspect, but it just amounts to a few variations on people seeing things on surveillance footage that the in-camera characters do not – which they already did in the first movie anyway. The Randy guy even puts his camera on backwards at one point, so it’s filming what’s behind him instead of what he sees, but they don’t even use this for a scare – Ghostface doesn’t appear until he realizes it’s backward and turns it around. So why even bother? Torture porn also could have been a good element – perhaps the new Ghostface would be into torturing his victims (with accompanying commentary), but for the most part it’s just the standard stabby-stab that he’s always done.
Remakes/reboots, however, are certainly addressed, and provide the bulk of the movie’s jokes and satire. There is a positively brilliant bit where a character rattles off every remake of the past 5-6 years (this is the joke I was referring to that’s presented in the trailer, though in the movie I am pretty sure it’s a longer list), and it’s just astonishingly funny when they’re all listed back to back like that. For an added dose of hilarity, I happened to be sitting next to Alex Aja, whose Piranha and Hills Have Eyes were among the movies that were name-checked. Since the man has no discernible sense of humor (he got offended last summer when I asked him if he enjoyed making something more “fun” for once with Piranha – he claimed it was a very serious and scary film), I found this quite amusing. They also mock the Stab series, which is now up to part 7 (part 5 apparently included time travel), and no longer has anything to do with Sidney – a small but effective joke on Dimension itself, who ran all of its franchises into the ground with similarly stupid decisions.
However, I couldn’t help but wonder – maybe Scream should have taken a page from Stab and started to ignore Sidney, and/or the other returning characters. If you think about the slasher franchises, they don’t often focus on the same hero characters over and over. If it’s a whodunit based series (as opposed to Halloween or Nightmare On Elm St, where you know who the killer is every time), I think it’s more successful when they do something like Urban Legend, where it’s a new cast of folks, with one minor character (the security guard lady) returning for continuity’s sake. Otherwise, maybe a survivor will come back for a second go around, but very rarely a 3rd and almost NEVER a fourth. The only other one that comes to mind is Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween, but she was practically a non entity until the final 20 minutes of Halloween II, and killed off instantly in her fourth appearance (Resurrection). Plus, there she was always dealing with the same guy with the same motive, whereas all four Scream films have centered around Sidney being targeted by someone new, forcing the writers to come up with yet another reason someone would want to kill her.
I was also surprised/disappointed by how little the script addressed the changes in technology. Twitter and Facebook get name-checked, but not used in any meaningful way, and despite texting and more advanced cell phones, Ghostface still calls people and they still answer, same as always. There’s a certain “app” that comes into play, but that’s just scratching the surface of both the possibilities on a narrative level, as well as making a statement on the usual remake approach of utilizing the new toys at their disposal. Come on, a twitpic of his own carnage would have been awesome!
The rest of the review will have spoilers! Stop reading now if you don’t want anything else spoiled, I’ll just leave you with the fact that it’s a better movie than Scream 3, and quite a lot of fun thanks to some great lines and likable characters, but with a weak villain reveal and a severe lack of scares or suspense.
Last warning! SPOILERS ahead!
So without saying who the killer actually is, it once again comes down to someone blaming Sidney for everything that has gone wrong in their life. It worked for Billy, and perhaps it was a bit clunky but Billy’s mom made sense, but Roman in 3 was just silly, and this one comes closer to him than Mrs. Loomis in terms of “Oh come ON!”. And again, I won’t say who the killer is, but if you listen to their “woe is me” speech and think about where that person actually was in their life when Sidney was the center of attention (i.e. 10-15 years ago), it doesn’t even make sense. I was as happy as everyone else to see Sid/Neve coming back, but I think they have officially exhausted their ideas when it comes to finding reasons for people to want to kill her (in fact, it almost mirrors some of Mickey's motivations in S2).
They should have had someone with a beef against Gale and/or Dewey, in fact. Not only would it have spared us some déjà vu, but it would have been kind of amusing if Sid THOUGHT the killer was after her but turned out to be of little interest to him. It also would have given David Arquette and Courtney Cox more to do; they’re in the movie a lot (and have a few “in real life this is awkward” conversations about the importance of sticking together and what not) but their characters are just going through the same motions they did in the other sequels – Dewey is trying to solve the crimes before anyone gets hurt, Gale wants to further her career and acts like a total bitch to every other female character in the movie. I was also dismayed about Dewey and Sid’s relationship here; they were practically like brother and sister in the other sequels, but here it almost seems like they barely speak anymore, and they also share few scenes together. And Marco Beltrami, sir, with all due respect, you are no Hans Zimmer. As with S3, there is a pitiful attempt to recreate “Dewey’s Theme” from Scream 2 (which was just licensed Broken Arrow score) and again it’s just embarrassing; either borrow the music again or just do something else entirely.
They also don’t do as good of a job of keeping folks as viable suspects until the very last minute as they did in the first two films. One suspect in particular is shown miles away as Dewey takes a call from someone being attacked, and this person had no reason to be in the scene – all it does is cancel them out as a feasible choice. The two cops (Brody and Anthony Anderson) arrive on the scene one second after Ghostface runs off after a murder in the first act, and a whole bunch of characters are present at a news conference when Ghostface tosses a body off a roof nearby a few scenes later. And yes, it’s Scream so there are two killers, but if you go back and watch the first film, there’s only one instance where there would HAVE to be two killers in order to keep everyone as a suspect. It should be a surprise (especially after 3, which only had one killer), not a necessity in order to keep folks as possible killers. Also, apart from when Billy was stabbed, one Ghostface never attacked the other (outside of their costume), but here the killers are constantly menacing the other, so after awhile it gets to the point where there HAS to be two just because we’ve seen every character in the same shot as Ghostface! Kind of a cheat.
As for the new kids, they’re fine. The basic idea is that the events of the first Scream are being “rebooted” in real life, so the new batch of kids are all more or less in the same roles as the core group in the first movie. I actually quite liked Hayden Panettiere’s character, Kirby, who was sort of like Tatum but also a film nerd (she owns Suspiria!), and the two Randy guys weren’t nearly as annoying as I thought they might have been based on the trailer - if anything they were kind of charming, particularly in their later scenes. The less said about Trevor (the Billy stand-in), the better, and I’m not sure who Olivia was supposed to be, but she’s dead before making much of an impression anyway. That leaves Jill Roberts, Sid’s young cousin, played by Emma Roberts (not sure if this is another joke, since Emma is also a relative of a much more famous woman – if so it’s kind of mean). So now SHE’s the one with a boyfriend climbing through her window, dealing with sexual hang-ups, etc. It’s a strong idea in theory, but by dividing the time we spend with them and the time we spend with the original trio (with far too little crossover), they don’t get to have as much fun with it as they could have. Apparently the script was around 138 pages, which would make for nearly a 2:20 movie, but this final cut is just under 1:45, which makes it the shortest in the series despite having the biggest cast.
Another odd thing about that is that it drags at times. I could watch Alison Brie all day long, and it almost seemed like I would get my “wish” during her (spoiler, again!) kill scene, which just goes on far too long considering how simple it is (just her in a parking garage). There’s a “Stabathon” party that fails to capitalize on its isolation and obvious allusions to Stu’s party in the first film, and instead our heroes go from there to a smaller party for some carnage, and then a hospital for the actual climax – it’s clunky, to say the least (the hospital scene also stretches credulity even for a slasher movie - two characters detach their monitors and such but not a single orderly or nurse comes to check? Massive chaos is caused in a room and no one seems to hear it?). This is the only film in the series not edited by Patrick Lussier (who has gone on to directing his own films), and his presence is definitely missed. But ironically enough, it also feels rushed in other aspects, particularly in the details of what exactly Sid (or Dewey and Gale, for that matter) has been doing for the past ten years. At the end of 3 she was seemingly once again open to being part of the world, but here she seems almost like she has just come out of hiding again in order to promote her book (or did it just take her ten years to write it?).
I also missed KNB’s FX from the first two films. Gary Tunnicliffe’s work is fine, but CGI knife blades are lame, and there’s a lack of inventiveness to any of the kills or violence. The new Ghostface mask design is also lousy; the mouth is far too elongated – that poster with the jaw turning into a knife isn’t really much of a stretch from how it actually looks in the movie. There are other little things I missed or couldn’t understand why they changed; no “Red Right Hand”, different font for the credits/logo, etc. I mean, these things were tradition for the other films, and this one is very much a “let’s get it back to basics” affair, so why all the changes? On the other hand, unlike S3, they have definitely returned to the real-world approach of the first two – the movies they mention and watch are real movies, not Roger Corman-esque made up ones. Someone mentions the Saw series, the characters watch Shaun of the Dead (and say “We’re watching Shaun of the Dead”), etc. The only thing that’s not real is that they have the Stab movies instead of Scream, a somewhat confusing meta-concept that is lampooned to great effect in the opening scene.
And that’s the thing about this one – it’s possibly the funniest in the series. Maybe it’s just my own somewhat jaded attitude toward modern horror helping me along, but I found the jabs at remakes and reboots and such very funny, and the other references/jokes hit more often than missed for me. Ghostface’s sarcastic replies were a hoot, and some of the character-based jokes (mainly from Gale) got hearty chuckles from me as well. But fear not – the tone is very much in line with that of the first film; I was laughing a lot but I never felt like it was more of a comedy than a horror movie. Scream is always a blend of humor and horror (I was pleased to see that Ghostface is STILL a pretty clumsy and oft-floored killer); it’s just that the humor portion was made from stronger ingredients. The scare scenes here are fairly basic, and apart from a relatively quick bit in a barn with Gale, I never really felt any tension, and there are no really great set-pieces that I might want to revisit on their own. Even S3 had the great chase through the Sid’s House/Stab set, but here it’s all just the same old stuff: phone call, Ghostface proves he’s watching them, they look in a closet, Ghostface jumps out of a doorway behind them – lather, rinse, repeat. And if it’s just a joke about the repetitive nature of sequels (or of remakes redoing the same scares), then it’s not a successful one.
But overall, it’s fun. I wouldn’t have minded trading a few laughs for a few thrills, but I guess either way I’m reacting and being entertained as intended, which is more than I can say for S3 with its stupid Star Wars jokes and Jay and Silent Bob cameos. I was happy to see my old “friends” again, and even though it was shot in a different location, the town and populace felt very much in line with the one in the first film (there’s also an amazing sight gag of sorts that you have to be super quick to notice – keep your eye on the left side of the frame on the first interior school scene for a wonderfully cheesy tribute to a fallen former cast member). I would love to see what Kevin Williamson’s original script was like before it got Kruger-ed, but what remains doesn’t feel like a Frankensteined movie – apart from Brie’s extended/isolated sequence, it felt very fluid, and even though the trailer has some scenes that aren’t in the movie, I didn’t notice any obvious edits or jarring shifts in the narrative (though there is some mention of a missing cell phone that had no setup). Perhaps it’s not a movie worthy of an 11 year wait, but I think most fans, as I was, will just be happy to have a real sequel again, not a lazy wannabe like the 3rd film. Imperfect as it may be, this is very much a legitimate Scream film.
What say you?