SCRE4M: New Decade. New Rules. New Standard.

14 04 2011

It’s been fifteen years since Drew Barrymore spilled her guts onscreen in the first Scream movie, ushering in a new era of horror and sparking a wave of subsequent sequels and spoofs. Now, writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven return to the franchise that started it all, joined by the intrepid trio that managed to survive the original trilogy: Courteney Cox, David Arquette and Neve Campbell. But as the tagline suggests, it’s a new decade, there are new rules, and there are plenty of new cast members, thrills and deaths. Here’s the breakdown:

Sidney Prescott (Campbell) is on the final leg of her book tour. Her last stop? Woodsboro, the town where Sidney’s dark past was born. And she just happens to be there on the anniversary of the infamous “Ghostface” killings. Once home, Sidney reunites with local sheriff, Dewey Riley, and his wife, intrepid reporter turned fiction writer, Gale Weathers-Riley. But Sidney’s past won’t die, and gruesome murders once again shake the small Woodsboro community. It’s up to the three friends (who’ve survived Ghostface thrice before) to find the killer and save the next generation of unsuspecting victims.

The Monkey: Where to begin. Oh, right…this movie was perfect. From its ingenious opening sequence to its twisted finale, SCRE4M is everything fans of the franchise hoped it would be and more. The film is so self-referential, so tongue-in-cheek, so self-aware, so meta that you can’t help but be impressed with Williamson’s razor-sharp wit and deft storytelling. It’s as if SCRE4M is staring at itself in a mirror, while holding up its own mirror – you’re left with an infinite loop of self-references and meta-jokes, making your head spin…in a good way.

There are even large portions of the dialogue dedicated to veritable cinema commentary and philosophy; the characters are practically delivering monologue treatises on the state of the horror film in modern cinema, critiquing the very genre with which it sits squarely. SCRE4M is wickedly funny, in that it covers any of its own shortcomings by the mere fact that it has analyzed, panned and dismissed them already. Brilliant. It’s like writing a book about the death of the paperback and the domination of the eReader, only to publish said manifesto in paperback; the irony is scathing and delicious and will have savvy audiences grinning from ear to ear the entire film.

The story progresses quickly, the kills are numerous and sufficiently grizzly and the characters are all shrouded in mystery. You’d think after decades of “whodunits” audiences would be numb to these types of movies, that there would be no surprises left. But Craven and Williamson perform magic onscreen, cobbling together a mysterious collage of hooded glances, impromptu entrances and noticeable absences for every single character, making it wonderfully impossible to guess the outcome. When they say everyone is a suspect, they mean it.

Campbell, Cox and Arquette reprise their roles with enthusiasm, brining a sense of history and gravity to a film that, otherwise, features a young, fresh (and unscarred) cast. And not only is the meta subtext confined within the realm of the fictional world – there were several real world nods as well, most notably, to the very public relationship between Cox and Arquette. A move like that could have easily been seen as cheap and could have pulled audiences right out of the movie – but Craven is a master and the references did nothing but strengthen the movie’s near academic self-evaluation.

As for the young cast: Emma Roberts as Jill Roberts, Sidney’s cousin, and Hayden Panettiere as Jill’s friend Kirby Reed led the new generation of teenage slasher film fodder expertly. In a wise move, SCRE4M didn’t try to fit the new characters into blatantly obvious roles (aside from Jill’s similarities to Sidney, there really weren’t any “younger versions” of Gale or Dewey, for instance). This allowed the new cast to stake a claim in the franchise on their own. It was this independence from the original trilogy that made it that much more satisfying when shameless throwbacks did show up. Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen played the film’s version of Jamie Kennedy’s Randy from Scream and Scream 2 – the somewhat stereotypical film nerds. They deliver the franchise’s signature “rules” lecture, introducing a whole new slew of meta references and ushering the franchise into an era of shaky-cam horror and YouTube fame.

It was this juxtaposition of old and new, young and old, traditional and edgy, familiar and unfamiliar that made SCRE4M such a delight and will not only please die-hard fans of the original, but will garner a horde of new fans as well. SCRE4M speaks to the YouTube generation while playing to the generation that grew up with the originals. It still amazes me how well the film was able to balance the myriad dichotomies that were created by its very existence. This movie just might give cinema theorists existential crises.

While I, obviously, won’t divulge who the killer is here, I will say that I was pleased with the outcome: it was yet another instance of the film’s uncanny ability to self-critique, and, in this instance, provide a bit of uncharacteristically enlightening social commentary as well.

The Weasel: The concept of filming the murders was brought up as part of the “new rules.” But it wasn’t really touched on until about two-thirds into the movie, and even then, it almost felt like a throwaway reference, one that was never fully capitalized on. The influence of social media networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, while referenced, were similarly underdeveloped. And I have to say – initial buzz has it that SCRE4M is the first part of a second Scream trilogy. I’m beginning to hope otherwise. This movie outdid even its predecessors and it’s unclear how two more sequels could top what Craven has done this round.

A gem of a film, especially considering it’s the fourth in a horror franchise. The script is devilishly meta, the actors are above par and the direction keeps you guessing till the very end. So, what’s your favorite scary movie?

5 Death Stars out of 5

Please don’t reveal too much about the plot, the kills or who Ghostface is in the comments. Give those who haven’t seen the movie yet a chance to be surprised. If you give away too much in your comment, I’ll delete it, or ask you to edit it before posting. Thanks!

What do you think? Does SCRE4M live up to the original? Did you enjoy the self-aware nature of the movie? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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3 responses

23 04 2011
moviegeek

If the aim is to re-define the rules for the new generation, they fail completely, as this feels just like a cash-in exercise and an excuse to revive something by re-hashing and regurgitating everything that we have already seen.
Behind all the talk about going against the clichés and trying to ridicule the various the character-less horror of the last few years, there is actually very little new. There a sense of Déjà-vu throughout and (aside from its far fetched ending) it is all rather predictable in its non-predictability.
Admitting a theft (or a reference) may ease the conscience, but it certainly doesn’t make it OK, nor it makes it a good film…. Also, it might make it funny, but certainly not scary!!
I LOVED the first Scream, but this is just tired… Still enjoyable, but they should really stop before it becomes the parody of itself…

READ MY FULL REVIEW: wp.me/p19wJ2-ju

28 04 2011
Dustin

Thanks for the comment! I agree that they shouldn’t make any more (there is rumor that it might turn into a direct-to-DVD franchise which makes me sad). I don’t think the aim was to re-define the rules for a new generation. As Sidney says, the first rule of a reboot, don’t f*ck with the original. I think it was a nice nod to the original movies and a pointed jab at the current state of horror. It wasn’t scary at all, but once again, I don’t think it was meant to be.

Thanks for the insight and I’ll definitely check out your review! 🙂

24 06 2011
Checking Out the “Happy-Haps!” « Scarletsp1der's Blog

[…] over at Pop Goes The Culture. Horror at its height. Did you see Scream 4 ? Check out the review HERE and share your thoughts on the […]

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