Saturday, April 16, 2011

No Screams Here -- Reflections on "Scream 4" (2011)

He should ask her what her least favorite scary movie is.
Lately, I've been hearing the term "meta" being thrown around a lot. NBC's great television show Community has been dubbed as "meta." The Simpsons have long been described this way, too. In movies, we've been constantly bombarded with "meta" parody films for years -- Scary Movie and its derivative ilk.

The term "meta" refers to any type of fiction that makes direct references to itself, making the audience recognize that it is indeed witnessing a story. In the theater, they call this "breaking the fourth wall." It's a risky proposition. Making the audience aware they are enjoying a fiction can often be a puzzling and rewarding experience, like in 2000's masterpiece, Adaptation. It can also be mess, too, like Scream 4.

Scream 4 (or Scre4m, as the text messaging-obsessed marketers are calling it in a direct grab for the teenage dollar) tries so hard to make you aware that it is smart, savvy, and clever that all it winds up doing is making you realize how dumb it actually is. It is an exercise of style over substance, and while not exactly the worst in the Scream franchise, it's a weak effort from both Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson.

Basics: 10 years after the events of the first film, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns to Woodsboro on the last leg of her self-help book tour. As soon as she shows her pretty face, a bunch of suspecting teenagers start getting brutally stabbed and slashed to death. Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and his wife, unhappily retired Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), do the investigative thing. What they don't realize is this new Ghostface Killer is not only armed with a knife, but with a mission to outdo previous incarnations by filming the murders.

Williamson Never Meta In-Joke He Didn't Like: This film's biggest problem is its tone. While the original Scream used the humor of its self-aware characters to create suspense and horror, this sequel can't seem to find the same balance. Every character here is self-aware -- even the lame deputies -- and the efforts made in Williamson's script to constantly remind us they all know they're in a horror film ruins all the scary moments. As a result all we're left with is shock-and-awe moments. And dialogue like "Don't fuck with the original," may have sounded great when it was on the computer screen, but the moment it's uttered it sounds forced and hollow. I read in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly that the script was even completed when Wes Craven started filming, and it shows.

I Love Russian Dolls. Don't You?: The opening sequence, despite the rest of the film, is excellent. It plays like a series of Russian dolls, revealing layers upon layers of action and suspense. It's the only point in the movie that feels like it has a purpose.

Nitpicks and Observations:

I don't know whose idea it was to give Hayden Panetierre a short, butch haircut, but that person should be fired.

It was weird watching David Arquette and Courteney Cox play a married couple having problems in their marriage while they were having problems in their marriage. It was an extra layer of meta-fiction.

Alison Bree is sexy even when she plays a bitch.

By the time the killer is revealed, it's pretty anti-climatic, and an exercise in plausibility. You have to really turn off your mind to think its cool or interesting.

There's talk that Williamson has plotted out a 5th and 6th films for this franchise. Not to break the fourth wall or anything, but I don't think I'll be buying tickets to either of those.

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