Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Scream 4 (2011) – Review

Scream 4 is a slasher film that much like its predecessors combines horror, comedy and a self-referential wit. It is the strongest in the series since the original. Director Wes Craven is a veteran in the genre and certainly knows how to make thrilling scenes, ripe with anticipation – however, the film was not scary at all. Craven did not take the cheap and easy road (that too many a horror film takes) and use noise and quick cutting (impact cuts) to create scares instead of building tension, but the playful tone created by the comedy from the outset undermines the tension throughout leaving the film thrilling (watching Ghostface pursue victims) but far from scary. The thrilling aspect of it is more in an entertaining vein than one that constricts the audience (leaving them on the edge of their seats, figure nails dug into the armrests) only to release them at the perfect impactful moments. The film is very self and genre referential, even more so than the first three (and maybe even too much). The prologue is quite funny, but kills any hope of the film being truly chilling, as the tone set (especially in the wonderful Anna Paquin/Kristin Bell scene) creates a jesting (if not lighthearted) atmosphere for the rest of the film. Also, Craven does not take his time with the murder scenes (for which there are quite a few). He is more interested in making an entertaining narratively quick moving movie than slowly building anticipation and tension (which generally leads to the scariest moments in films). The brisk pacing (which seemingly slams to a halt in a few dialog heavy exposition scenes) also takes away from the characters, especially all the new faces (but with a long prologue and extended, yet great, ending, the middle needed to move rapidly). The audience gets a brief idea of the characters, but not enough to really care or take stock in any of them, which again takes away from a real sense of tension (i.e. if we are not invested in them, then we do not care if they die or not, so whether they die or not is inconsequential dramatically, so all we want is for it to be entertaining). Luckily, Craven does make these death scenes engrossing on more of a fun level. Thus, the film plays a bit more like a spectacle than a drama (which is fine). That being said, a few of the new characters fit the Scream world very well and are a lot of fun (I personally really enjoyed who they picked as the principal killer – sorry for any minor spoilers for those who have not seen this or any of the Scream films). Scream 4 is entertaining and enjoyable (just like the original), but not among the best films in the genre.

Technical and acting achievements: Aside from Red Eye, Craven has not really made a good film since Scream, which is maybe why he and writer Kevin Williamson returned to the franchise and characters. Scream 4 is a step in the right direction for him as a director, though it feels like a film made for a much different audience than his past better known works like A Nightmare on Elm Street (and maybe that is a good thing – but it does change the aim and tone of his films, from scary to entertainment driven). The music in the film overall was not that great mostly due to the bland rock that populated the found pieces. Composer Marco Beltrami’s (who worked on the series previously) score is ok. It is adequate but nothing more. Peter Deming’s (who is doing great work in the genre recently) cinematography is good (but maybe not as good as his recent work on Drag Me to Hell, but Sam Raimi is a much more stylistic director, and nowhere near as amazing as his work on From Hell, but again The Hughes Brothers have a lot more style than Craven). He is at his best in this film when there is an active camera. Adam Stockhausen’s production design is pretty standard for the series (though I did like his set for the Stab Fest and thought the selection for Kirby’s house was somewhat aesthetically interesting – and of course all the homes have stairs to run up). The cast was a lot of fun overall, and really the lifeblood of the film. The prologue features great work – Paquin and Bell are really only there for laughs and do the job well, while Lucy Hale and Aimee Teegarden are quite good in their brief scenes (it is too bad they were not in more of it). The film also features a number of supporting characters played by funny people. Chief among them is Alison Brie (who much like her work on Mad Men and Community is full of energy and hilarity). The three members of the original cast that return are ok – lead Neve Campbell is the best among them playing a more confident and badass self, David Arquette is useless and goofy (just like he is in all the others) and Courtney Cox is fine, but her character feels forced into the narrative. While grossly underdeveloped, the new characters shine. The cinema nerds played by Rory Culkin and Eric Knudsen are good fun, and make the self-referential exposition fresh and enjoyable. Hayden Panettiere is witty and charismatic (her best film performance to date, washing away some of the stink left by the horridness of seasons three and four of Heroes). Emma Roberts is fantastic in the lead. Her scenes with Campbell are good, but she is at her best during the end (the sequence of events after the killers are reveled has some really great and funny work from her).

If Scream 4 is indeed the start of a new trilogy, it has started it off just as well as the original did for the first three. 6/10

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