Sunday, September 16, 2012

We All Scream For...

Movie Review: Scream 4

Director: Wes Craven

Reviewed: 16 September 2012

jamesintexas rating--1/2 *

A phone rings.

"Who is this?" a girl utters.

"Not an App," a dark, deep voice answers.

Aside from cheeky dialogue that really, really tries to reflect our times and seem deep, I want to open my review for Scream 4 with a question of my own.

Why would anyone want to be friends with Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell)?

After an unsettling and unsatisfying opening, Wes Craven's newest addition to the Scream franchise welcomes back Deputy-turned-Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and his wife journalist Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), as well as survivor-turned-author Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), though I have difficulty believing Sidney's book can consist of more than a list of directions to evade would-be killers: kick them in the face, lock doors, swing off roofs, luck out with your multiple stab wounds to your stomach, glare intensely, continue to put yourself in situations with very little cell phone reception, few weapons, and cavernous houses where the killer's tactic is coming up behind you and grabbing you.  Killings follow Sidney's return to Woodsboro, and Ghostface killer returns in parking garages, dark hallways, bedrooms, and local parties, wrecking havoc and causing carnage with the iconic glinty knife.

Things fall apart.  The center cannot hold.

Full disclosure: I saw Scream during my freshman year in college in 1996-1997, and it was riveting and a formative experience for me.  I was terrified at the film's iconic mask, captivated by its construction and post-modern angle, as well as moved by the performances of Campbell, Arquette, Cox, and the rest of the cast.  Scream hit a nerve for me, amplifying the killer-in-the-house genre to scary, hilarious levels, and feeling dark and resonant, playing on fears of being alone in the house, of getting a phone call from someone that you don't know, of masks, silent killers, and someone who wants to do you massive harm.  Beyond a statue bust of Henry Winkler, the slain principal from the first film, in a throwaway shot as disposable characters walk down pristine hallways of Woodsboro High School, there is simply nothing that resembles that first film's greatness.  Even musically that original film introduced me to Nick Cave and Moby, to some pretty haunting moments and sequences which felt fresh in their exploration of the genre and commenting on it as it unfolded.  And, after a series of sequels offering diminishing returns, it has come to this: Scream 4.

I'm going to construct this review as a series of questions.

Does Neve Campbell realize how underwritten her role as Sidney is?

Does she care?

Can David Arquette carry a scene anymore as tired Sheriff Dewey?

Could he ever?

Does Courtney Cox realize the ridiculousness of watching her Gale character set up web camera in a bizarre Stab-Fest party in an abandoned farmhouse?

Does it get frustrating for Kevin Williamson to write a screenplay which consists of multiple characters who exist only to be flayed after teasing us as possible suspects?

Does that construction mean that we simply see less, care less about Sidney, her cousin, Sheriff Dewey, Gale, as well as the rest of the cast?  I think he's destroyed his own franchise by taking the focus off of the central characters.  There simply isn't enough time for us to connect with them.

Why can't cops parked out front of houses, presumably watching them, keep creepers from entering second story windows?

Why does the Ghostface killer continue to slowly, strangely cock his head to the side while watching his victims squirm and try to wheedle their ways out of imminent death?

Why are there never any parents in any of the houses in this town?

Also, why are there no motion-sensor lights to foil a creeping killer?

Would I have enjoyed this film more if the famous actors from opening scenes had been the ones doing the heavy lifting in the film instead of a cast with few names and (more importantly) less emotional connection?

Yes, I have to think so.  I mean, we have Julia Roberts' niece Emma Roberts, a Culkin, a Jaime Kennedy wannabee, Hayden Panettiere, as well as a series of forgettable faces and performances.  Alison Brie from Community and Mad Men is wasted here in a ridiculous role as Sidney's publicist who should know better than to park in a dark parking garage.  Anthony Anderson, a very funny and good actor, is wasted as a throwaway police officer.  As this film progresses, I found myself caring less and less for all of the characters.


Why not have the heroes carry guns, mace, or tasers to protect themselves in 2011?  Any single modern weapon would have leveled the playing field immensely and made standing their ground more of an option.  

Why do the police take over twenty minutes to get anywhere in this city?  How big is this city?  How much traffic is there in the middle of the night?

Why, Ghostface killer, are you so intent on grabbing people's ankles instead of using that shiny knife whenever you are close to them?

To sum up, Scream 4 is completely unsatisfying and unworthy of the Scream name.

Also, filmed in Michigan.

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