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Scream 4

I’m only somewhat embarrassed to admit the extent to which that first “Scream” picture captured my imagination back in the day.  Not only were the director, Wes Craven, and the writer, Kevin Williamson, having fun with the rules and elements and structure of the horror genre, but the people in the movie were, too: hey, they were having fun with the rules even as those rules got them filleted.  The reveal of the two teen sociopaths at the end was funny and disturbing at once: there was a ring of psychological truth in their inability to distinguish reality from fantasy.  The ethos of everyone involved in “Scream” seemed to be “it’s all in fun”, but the ending said, okay, here’s what happens when that sort of thinking gets carried over into “real life”.
If I’m honest though, I have to admit what it really was: I had a MASSIVE crush on Neve Campbell.  Despite ever-diminishing returns, my ardor for Neve kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the trilogy.  Well, Neve still looks great representing my generation in "Scream 4", and the rest of the original crew, David Arquette and Courtney Cox, is back as well.  We’ve got Craven directing a Williamson-penned script, in which a killer is reenacting the crimes of the original movies, itself a comment on the litany of what has by now become its own genre (“Scream” movies).

So why is it that what should be a pop thrill is more like a can of flat pop?  Well, you’ve got to give the basic elements a more vigorous, imaginative spin than this.  There’s a secret party in a barn where the kids are showing a marathon of the “Stab!” movies (based on the "true events" we saw in the “Scream” trilogy), and investigative reporter Cox is sneaking around setting up surveillance cameras.  The plethora of screens and cameras should be producing a meta-induced buzz, yet the staging has little imagination, the lines aren’t funny enough...there’s just no kick to it.

There were moments when I felt that old “Scream” frisson, though, and those were whenever Hayden Panettiere was on screen.  She’s like a petite, high-school version of a sexy De Palma platinum blonde (who were in turn homages to Hitchcock blondes).  As a teenage horror movie fan who can hold her own with the geek boys, she has a perpetual sly, knowing smile—her expression itself embodies everything these movies are supposed to be about—and she’s just right for the sort of stylized, artificial reality that these people live in.  Maybe it’s too much to say she’s got some of the charisma of a young Stanwyck, but I’m gonna take it there.

The opening sequence is great, as well, in which we keep pulling out of one horror picture after another --each time to a couple of young women watching the movie on a couch, analyzing and critiquing the movie and the genre with a whip-smart acuity before finding that they are living a horror movie themselves--until we’re in “the real world”.  And yet we have that tingly, uneasy sensation that we’re still in that hyper-real, horror-movie land, that pleasurable sense of impending anarchy amidst suburban calm.  And we know it’s all in fun.  That’s the feeling we want from this movie, and which it doesn’t provide often enough.

Rating: ** 

Key to ratings:

***** (essential viewing)
**** (excellent)
*** (worth a look)
** (forgettable)
* (rubbish!!)

- April 28, 2011

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