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Movie Review: Scream 4 (R)

scream4By: Roxana Hadadi

‘Scream 4’ pays homage to the classics while still looking murderously, and wonderfully, ahead

It’s been more than a decade since “Scream 3,” the supposedly final installment of the “Scream” trilogy, came out in theaters, and since then the horror genre has veered into a world of scary little kids and evil mastermind murderers planning ways to make you kill yourself. It’s a gross, bloody, not-well-thought-out world – and quite wisely, “Scream 4” has nothing to do with it.

OK, so “Scream 4,” directed by series creator Wes Craven and (mostly) crafted by original screenwriter Kevin Williamson (whose work was kind of tweaked since he couldn’t be on set due to his commitments to his TV show, “The Vampire Diaries”), is soaked in oodles of intestines, skull fragments and stab wounds. Duh, it’s a slasher film. But it’s the smartness, wittiness and subtlety – yup, you read that last one right – that Craven and Williamson bring to the project that keep it from getting too stale, too unreasonable. When the original “Scream” revitalized the genre in 1996, it wasn’t just because the pair thought up ingenious ways of killing teenagers – the self-aware nature of the film, the way it winked to the audience while also scaring the crap out of them, was a hit, too. “Scream 4” takes that mantle and runs with it, easily making it one of the most satisfying films to come out so far this year.

To watch “Scream 4,” you obviously have to be aware of what’s come before it: The series is focused on protagonist Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who originally was a high school student first struggling with the one-year anniversary of her mother’s death – and then reeling as someone wearing a black robe and a plastic mask and calling himself “Ghostface” killed most of her friends in an attempt to kill her. In “Scream,” the killers turned out to be her boyfriend and his best friend, who tried to follow typical horror movie “rules,” or plot conventions, in their attempt on Sidney’s life. In 1997’s “Scream 2,” Sidney’s college boyfriend’s best friend, being paid by her first boyfriend’s crazy mom, tried to do her in. And in 2000’s “Scream 3,” it was a secret half-brother, jealous of the love Sidney received from her mother, who yearned to kill her.

Along the way, there have been books and films within the “Scream” universe that are based on what Sidney has gone through: A bestselling series, “Stab,” authored by journalist Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), who was in a testy relationship with Sidney’s hometown sheriff, Dewey (David Arquette), was turned into a major blockbuster franchise. Everyone loves a good scary movie.

So that’s where we are in “Scream 4”: It’s been a decade since the last attempt on Sidney’s life, and she’s finally made strides to get away from the “victim” label so often put on her by the media, instead choosing to write a memoir. She wraps up her book tour in her hometown of Woodsboro – where Dewey and Gale live, now that they’re married – on the anniversary of the first murders, hoping to confront her fears and move past everything that’s happened. But once people start receiving scary phone calls and turning up dead, it’s for Sidney, Dewey and Gale – who so often worked together to figure out the previous killers – to determine who is coming out of the woodwork to kill Sidney again.

You may have just read that plot description and thought to yourself, “Yeah, obviously. People try to kill Sidney all the time, TELL ME MORE.” But to give away too much would be, you know, giving away too much. What I’ll say is this: “Scream 4” is wickedly smart, paying homage to the original idea for the films and for the slasher genre itself with wise character development choices and an update to the series’ tried-and-true formula. There are high school kids who think they know everything there is to know about scary movies, there are lots of knives, Sidney squints in rage and frustration a lot, Dewey fumbles around, Gail uses her steely sexuality in the search of a good story. All the elements you’ve loved from the first three films are there; Craven and Williamson prove ingenious in how they choose to shake them up, injecting a modernity and awareness of what’s changed in the world in the past 10 years to keep the film fresh and current.

And could the film have really worked without all of its major players? True, Williamson wasn’t as involved as he could have been because the CW forced his hand to keep him working on “The Vampire Diaries” instead of devoting too much time to being on the set of “Scream 4.” But it’s his sarcastic and banter-filled script, with lines that take shots at other films (“I hate all that torture porn s—. … There’s no character development”) and the “Scream” movies themselves (“These sequels don’t know when to stop!”), that returns characters to the conscious world they were in during “Scream” and “Scream 2.”

In that way, Williamson ensures that audiences kind of know what to expect – but just because the killer only stabs people to death, instead of planning out detailed murders like Jigsaw, doesn’t mean the killings are nice or tidy. They’re blood-drenched affairs that are still scary in their built-up suspense and then-rapid delivery, and the R rating stands: There are tons of murders, obviously, with characters being thrown through windows, having their intestines pulled out and being stabbed in the forehead or the gut or the back or basically anywhere else. There’s also some talk about sex and a girl walking around in a bra, but there’s no nudity; instead, the focus here is the tons of blood being spilled. Nevertheless, the killings aren’t really psychologically damaging in any way – the film is wham-bam, so while things are gory, they won’t really stick with you. Older teenagers should be able to handle it and may be amused in the absurdity of some of the deaths; younger teens, however, could be put off by all the carnage.

What about parents, though? If you grew up with the “Scream” series, you’ll appreciate the nostalgia factor of “Scream 4,” which incorporates relevant elements like Facebook into a story that has impressively stood up to time. It’s rumored that Craven is thinking of creating another “Scream” trilogy, this time with “Scream 4” as its first installment – and if the future two films are anything like this one, I’m totally OK with that. Take note, George Lucas, creator of “Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” the worst first-installment of a series ever – “Scream 4” is how you start a trilogy off right.




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