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SPECIAL COVERAGE: 'SCREAM 4'
Review: 'Scream 4' Doesn't Scream Originality, But Still Sharp
By Tim Lammers
April 15, 2011
INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & MOVIE NEWS BY TIM LAMMERS
About 11 years since the third film and 15 years after the "Scream" franchise began, director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson are finally taking another stab at the franchise with "Scream 4," a clever but ultimately re-hashed horror tale that is saved by its terrific twist in the final act.
And while it's far from being the best of the four thrill films, it still much smarter than your average horror film and undoubtedly deserves a welcome into the "Scream" series: especially when it steps outside of the boundaries of formula and dares to take the tale of the Ghostface killer in a different sort of direction.
Set 10 years after the events of "Scream 3" (a movie that earns high marks for its brilliant parallel universe/movie-within-a-movie concept) Neve Campbell reprises the role of Sidney Prescott -- still damaged from her past encounters with Ghostface, but healing herself as the author of a national best-selling self-help book. And in a gutsy move, Sidney finishes her book tour with a return to her (fictional) hometown of Woodsboro, Calif., the setting of the first series of murders 15 years earlier.
But no sooner than Sidney arrives, Ghostface gets back to menacing the residents of the sleepy town. First, in a ghastly show of teen spirit, some locals are celebrating the Woodsboro killings with a "Stab" movie festival -- based on the best-selling books by former investigative TV journalist Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). Worse yet, somebody new has assumed the identity of the masked killer and welcomes Sidney home by slaughtering a pair of teens.
Not surprisingly, the first two victims of Ghostface are not the last, and one-by-one, each prospective victim receives their complimentary phone call from brutal, knife-wielding fiend to warn them of their impending doom.
But while some of the teens revel in the killings -- like two horror movie geeks, Charlie (Rory Culkin) and Robbie (Erik Knudsen), who stream their exploits over Internet -- others like Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) and Jill (Emma Roberts)
Horror Thriller At Its Best When It Steps Away From Series' Formula
appear unfazed by it until Ghostface strikes close to home. The carnage has certainly grabbed the attention of Gale -- now the wife of Sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) -- who is itching to come out retirement from TV journalism to investigate the killings as a means of inspiration for her new "Stab" novel.
"Scream 4" offers you everything you expect out of the franchise, including many moments of ominous suspense, plenty of bits of tongue-in-cheek humor, several welcome shots at other entries in the horror film genre and last but not least, lots of bloody, bloody kills.
As it turns out, that's a blessing and curse for the film: for those familiar with the series, it will at times feel just that -- all-too familiar. But for the new generation of horror filmgoers, it will serve as an exciting introduction to innovative and entertaining filmmaking.
That's not to say "Scream 4" is a complete disappointment for fans of the first three films. In fact, when the long-anticipated twist in the story reveals the identity of the new Ghostface killer, the movie takes a welcome, wicked turn into the area of biting social commentary about the ugly side of social media and reality television, where there are no boundaries in the strive to become a media sensation. That's not to say it will spark an instant about-face with today's youth; but hopefully it will make them think a minute more about their actions before they broadcast their knee-jerk actions to the world.
But for those of us who were around before the world ran amok with Internet and reality television "fame," it serves as a welcome breath of fresh air as it calls out the sort no-talent bums who contribute mostly nothing to the pop culture landscape. You know who you are: the folks who are famous for being famous.
As for the people who have mostly paid their dues and earned their place in entertainment industry -- the "Scream 4" actors -- on the whole they mostly fit the bill. Campbell easily reassumes the persona of Sidney Prescott and delivers one of the best, laugh-out-loud lines during the final act of the film; while Cox tears up the scenery with another bold, brash and funny turn as the no-nonsense Gale Weathers.
Arquette has sort of a B-movie presence and somewhat goes through the motions as Sheriff Dewey, with some notably brutal exceptions: his interactions
with real-life estranged wife Cox are realistically awkward on-screen, since their characters Dewey and Gail are also suffering some marital strife. As one of Dewey's deputies, a fetching, wide-eyed Marley Shelton is supposed to be one of the reasons for the troubles, but her character mostly comes off as a caricature of a small-town cop.
For the most part, the newbies in the "Scream" world -- especially Culkin, Panettiere and Roberts -- deliver the attitude and presence needed of their characters. Especially impressive is Roberts, who should finally break out of the shadows of dad Eric and aunt Julia with a performance that gets better and better as the film rolls along.
Thanks to the sharp wit of Williamson and smart film sensibilities of Craven, "Scream 4" takes its fair share of shots at remakes and especially "reboots" -- the phrase de jour in Hollywood that's a substitute for saying, "We don't have any new ideas, but we want to steer clear of the negative connotations of the word 'remake' when it comes to high-concept movies, so we're calling it a 'reboots' instead."
Of course, by taking a fourth "Scream" film to make their feelings about reboots known -- a film that's purportedly the beginning of a new "Scream" trilogy -- it's a painful case of the pot calling the kettle black. Lucky for Craven and Williamson, "Scream 4" isn't cheap and exploitative, and it is highly admirable of them to admit what it is. After all, any film that's willing to poke fun at itself at the very least deserves credit for having the guts (and in this case, gore) to say it.