Thursday 8 September 2011

Movie Review: SCRE4M (2011)

Thursday 8 September 2011
directed by Wes Craven; written by Kevin Williamson
starring Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Emma
Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Roy Culkin & Marley Shelton

The Scream franchise ran out of things to say a decade ago, with unmitigated fiasco Scream 3 (*), coming off the decent sequel (**½) to the inspired original (***½). The only reason a fourth installment exists is because it might resuscitate multiple careers (director Wes Craven, stars Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Neve Campbell) and Dimension Films don't have many other franchises to cash-in with. To be fair, enough time's passed for Scre4m to have fresh ammo to fire (the '00s being notorious for remakes, quick sequels, unnecessary prequels, and "torture porn"), but it becomes clear that writer Kevin Williamson isn't overly interested in satirizing that stuff. Or, more accurately, can't find a way for modern horror fashions to merge with his Scream universe, beyond name-checking the likes of Final Destination and delivering instances of serial-stabber "Ghostface" filming his kills.

It's the ten-year anniversary of the third film's murders (which didn't even take place in Woodsboro, but whatever), and survivor Sidney Prescott (Campbell) has returned to her hometown with a memoir to sell. In town, ruthless reporter Gale (Cox) is now attempting to write fiction while in a rocky marriage with Sheriff Dewey Riley (Arquette), and Sidney's arrival heralds another spate of killings, this one taking advantage of the anniversary by echoing kills from the first Scream. So it's up to Sidney to protect her family (Emma Roberts as cousin Jill, Mary McDonnell as aunt Kate) and friends from the latest sicko trying to make a name for themselves, as the police are just as ineffectual as ever.

Scre4m is boringly okay, which is a shame because there's definitely something to be said about the state of 21st-century horror, but the script is too slavish to the saga's '90s formula. The kills aren't imaginative or gruesome enough (a knifing through a letterbox is as inventive as it gets), and the only intelligent thing the script posits is that virgins are no longer safe in horror movies, but gay people definitely are. (A theory that doesn't withstand scrutiny, but as a rule of thumb feels true). A shame the movie doesn't do something with this idea, perhaps via Panettiere's character Kirby, whose cropped blonde haircut subconsciously suggests she may be a lesbian, until she acts otherwise with a film nerd.

The movie's nowhere near as awful as the travesty we know as Scream 3, probably because creator Kevin Williamson returned to pen the whole script, which was only tinkered with by hack Ehren Kruger when he left the project. The meta teaser is quite fun, if more irritating than clever, but it sure beats its predecessor's home invasion gambit, and at the very least I was grateful the killer's identity wasn't predictable, and their motive made sense if you accept the fact everyone in Scream is easily driven insane by a thirst for celebrity. To its credit, this has been a quartet of murder-mysteries I've never been able to correct guess whodunnit; not that you're really given "clues". A carousel of suspects pass before your eyes, before the script selects the culprit and stamps them with an unknowable back-story and semi-plausible incentive.

But even an ability to keep its killer unpredictable doesn't disguise the fact Scre4m's modus operandi isn't especially clever or unique in modern pop-culture. Where it was once unique to have a slasher movie where the characters are aware of the genre they're "in" (enabling them to avoid making too many clichéd mistakes, because they're as savvy as the audience), almost every slasher movie since has ensured its characters have equal awareness... so there's nothing to set this sequel apart. The rancid Scary Movies have also spoiled the basic thrills of its stalk-n'-slash sequences, as I keep expecting Ghostface to trip over a sofa or walk into a glass door—spoiling what used to be a frighteningly anonymous villain.

In summation, Williamson's script is half-decent, Craven's direction is capable but rarely thrilling, the returning cast are game, the new blood's surprisingly good (especially Alison Brie and Panettiere), a few sequences work nicely, but there's never any pathos to the deaths. People die in terrible ways, but everyone instantly moves on—even those without the excuse of being inured to massacres. Scre4m ends in a fog of mixed feelings. It's not outright appalling, just wholly unnecessary—and making sly digs about its own pointlessness doesn't excuse anything. The franchise needed a brave reinvention to appeal to modern audiences who aren't impressed by referential humour. Scre4m just doesn't cut it.

Dimension Films / 111 minutes