18 April 2011

SCREAM 4- Review

It would be hard to disagree that over the course of three films between 1996 and 2000, the Scream saga went from being incisive about its own genre and having things to say about the state of horror and cliché, to taking the piss out of itself instead. This eventually got so bad that I'm about 90% certain I can recommend you skip straight from Scream 3 to Scream 4.

In the film, and in real time, 15 years have passed since Sidney Prescott first came up against the Ghostface killer. She returns to Woodsboro on the eve of the anniversary of the original murders, promoting her self-help book about moving on from being a victim. With horror movies in a state of ouroboros due to remakes and reboots, the students of Woodsboro High School soon come under attack- someone wants to improve upon the original killing spree.

Here's a thing about horror remakes/reboots/reimaginings/whatever you want to call them. They're very often sold as "updates" on the original source by studios who presumably don't like the negative connotations of the word "remake". Around the time when Batman Begins and Casino Royale were the only notable "reboots", they were happier to use that word too, but that's starting to lose its currency. But the means of "updating" the original usually amounts to copying many of the same beats and adding social networking or mobile phones, and the latter is usually only there to not have a signal at a crucial moment anyway.

And here's why Scream 4 works. It is an honest-to-goodness update of the 1996 original, and because it's in the same continuity, as a continuation of Sidney's story, it's also not a remake or a reboot. Therefore the satire travels as well this time around as it did way back in 1996, because it's got a healthy cynicism about itself without falling into all of the same traps it's criticising from other horror films.

Maybe it's the fact that in the 11 years since Scream 3, things have changed for the genre, or rather, what's changed is how little things have changed, with the genre more literally repeating the formula of other films by remaking or rebooting them. Scream has now produced its own clichés, such as the cold openings and the metatextual nudging, both of which are taken to task by original screenwriter Kevin Williamson in this new film. But the chief difference between this film and Scream 2 or Scream 3 is that this one has more than just self-awareness.

There's also a welcome return for the ongoing murder mystery part of the proceedings, which was less well-thought out in the previous sequels, as much as the dark humour and satire. So what's strange to realise about Scream 4 is that it feels fresher than most horror films out there despite the fact that it's largely the same as the first film, and it makes that part of its DNA.

The new ingenues hoping to evade being stabbed to death are played by the likes of Emma Roberts and Hayden Panettiere, whose characters have a cultural awareness from the culture of living in Woodsboro and watching scary movies, but an awareness that can still be blinkered by basic human nature. That's a human nature that's missing from the idiotic ciphers you see in, say, most of Platinum Dunes' output.

Is that a high-falutin' way of saying that they're still gonna go in there even if you shout "Bitch, don't go in there"? Well, yes, but if the younger cast don't appeal to you as characters so much, Neve Campbell reprises her perennial victim Sidney, and the character is developed as a result of the previous films rather than reset for another scream queen outing. David Arquette's Sheriff Dewey has nearly been killed even more times than Sidney, so his presence is oddly reassuring in this one. I also much preferred Courteney Cox's involvement post-Friends, because the irrelevant meta jokes about her co-stars when Friends was still running really got on my nerves in the previous sequels.

It's not all positive, mind. For a seasoned director like Wes Craven, the film is pretty poorly shot. The lens seems almost near-sighted with the way that lights in the background strobe and backgrounds themselves look blurry. If I had to describe it without visual aids, think of what 3D looks like if you take off the glasses. Additionally, I'm aware that while the film's twist ending and commentary on victim culture enraptured me (quite separately, I should add), not everyone will be as taken it. But it should go without saying that if you haven't liked the meta stuff in past Scream films, you won't like this new one.

For me at least, Scream 4 is the best Scream film since the original. The satire is as sharp and surprising as it was in the beginning, and the film works very well as a dark and involving comedy, and only slightly less well as a creepy slasher movie. This one isn't particularly scary, but it's always very involving, if you've been a fan of the series in the past. I'm not going to call it "Scre4m" like they want us to, because that's absurd, but it does give me opportunity to say that I still hope the fourth instalment is the last- it should end on a high note, because I struggle to see how "5cream" could be any more innovative.

Scream 4 is now playing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Scream 4, why not share your comments below? And as much as I like Kevin Smith and his work, boy am I glad to say that there isn't another Jay and Silent Bob cameo in this one...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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