15 April 2011

Scream 4

Neve Campbell is shown in a scene from "Scream 4."
"New decade, new rules."

Or at least that's what "Scream 4" director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson would have us believe.

Eleven years have passed since the disappointing "Scream 3" seemingly put an end to the franchise, but despite a new, young cast of corpses-in-waiting mingling with the returning characters, it's basically back to the same old, same old. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing in this age of endless "Saw" sequels.

With a movie franchise within the movie, based on the original movie (there's even a movie within the movie within the movie at one point), the meta commentary is back in full force—Craven does well to avoid drowning in it in the early scenes.

"Scream" spelled out the rules of horror movies, "Scream 2" of sequels and "Scream 3" of franchises. "Scream 4" deals in reboots. (Never mind that "Scream 4" is not a reboot at all, but another sequel.)

Even though the characters are more aware than ever before, that doesn't limit the body count. Apparently, it doesn't matter how smart a horror movie wants you to think it is; its intended victims always will go outside to investigate strange noises in the night and run up the stairs when the killer chases them.

A key to "Scream's" success that other slashers have lacked has been a real rooting interest in its core characters: victim/survivor Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), police officer Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and sleazy tabloid journalist/author Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). Campbell, Arquette and Cox effortlessly slide back into their familiar roles.

Now the author of a self-help book based on her horrific experiences, Sidney has returned to where it all began, her hometown of Woodsboro, on the final stop of her book tour. Now a married couple, Dewey is the local sheriff, and Gale, frustrated with small-town life, suffers from a case of writer's block.

The fresh blood (heh heh) includes Sidney's teenage cousin, Jill (Emma Roberts); Jill's friends Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) and Olivia (Marielle Jaffe); Jill's intense ex-boyfriend, Trevor (Nico Tortorella); Sidney's publicist (Alison Brie); and the requisite film geeks, Charlie (Rory Culkin) and Robbie (Erik Knudsen), who constantly wears a camera on a headset, streaming his entire life live online.

A new "Ghostface" killer or killers starts reenacting the events of "Stab," the movie based on Gale's book about the original Woodsboro murders (and first seen in "Scream 2"), making Sidney's homecoming complete.

Though bloodier than previous entries in the franchise, "Scream 4" plays more as comedy than horror. The drama suffers from the same problem that plagued "Scream 3" the central character, Sidney, spends a lot of time on the sidelines, the movie more interested in Jill and friends.

"The unexpected is the new cliché," Charlie says.

It actually has been the cliché throughout the series, with previous killers frequently coming out of nowhere. And again in "Scream 4," there is no real way to guess the motive of the main perpetrator. Just once, I want to see an obvious suspect unmasked as the killer. That would be unexpected.

Greg's Grade: C+

(Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some teen drinking. 111 minutes.)

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