Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Slash From The Past

Scream 4(2011)Directed By Wes Craven

"Scream 4" is Wes Craven's best film since the original "Scream" 15 years ago. The film begins with a fantastic opening of movies-within-movies trying it's best to get past the years and layers of expectations that have grown up around the original films and especially the even more numerous "Scary Movie" series. Rather than try to spin off yet another adventure of poor Sydney (Nev Campbell) being chased around by "Ghostface" and his trademark telephone calls in a new location (college and then a Hollywood studio the last times) "Scream 4" goes back to the sites and sets of the original murders in the town of Woodsborrow. In "Scream 4", "The Stab" series, films within the Scream-universe inspired by the original murders, have been churned out continuously, and after the seventh Sydney returns to Woodsborrow to do a book signing for her new auto-bio "Out Of Darkness", with which she hopes to reinvent herself. Reinventing yourself is a theme and phrase repeated throughout the film, by Sydney with her book, Gale (Courtney Cox) who is trying to adjust to the pace of small-town life, the "film geeks" who believe the killer is trying to do a "remake" (not a sequel) of the original killings for the modern age, and finally the killer itself. "Scream" in all its "meta" ("I don't know what it means I heard one of the kids say it") glory was made for an audience who had seen it all when it came to slasher-horror, but "Scream 4" is the audience whose seen Everything, and then the spin-offs, prequels, sequels, parodies, and failed TV versions of Everything as well. Too bad despite all this prior knowledge, and everyone from the hottest ingenue to the lowliest nerd able to rattle off laundry lists of horror film titles, no one attempts even the most basic survival techniques (like arming themselves) until the films end. In a town full of murder, people still stay at home alone, open front doors, get out of their cars, throw parties, and all but paint targets on their chest. "Name-dropping" is just that; easy list making, if any substantial information or ideas behind any of those names, goes unremembered and unapplied. If no one learns anything from previous films or from events earlier in the film, then the post-modern playfulness becomes empty posturing. Though innovative and entertaining in its own right, the style of the film has more a brain than its characters. To really re-invent the slasher genre you would have to after the "deconstruction" (which "Scream" accomplished amply) you would then take out the parts that don't work and re-construct into something better, not just continue along the same path while commenting and becoming ever more aware of its flaws and limits. "Scream 4" as many times as I laughed or found myself surprised by a bit of witty dialog or particularly effect scare, is still "deconstructing" cliches and tropes while then stumbling right into them (the lack of weapons, opening doors, being alone in desolate areas etc). The film is a wormhole for those looking to examine self-reflexivity nearly to the point of exhaustion, but it doesn't practice enough of what it preaches. Unable to create genuine scares, it makes up for it with jokes, in-jokes, peek-a-boo surprises and peppy dialogue with no lag time or wasted sub-plots. The killers motives haven't advanced much over the series childhood scars and a need for fame come up again and again, but in "Scream4" they come across more bitterly with less faith in the "future". The sequels will not save us. In fifty years as the killer reminds us the slasher film has come no further than "Peeping Tom", in its obsessions with voyeurism and violence, regardless of how non-invasive our modern cameras have become (one character wears a camera attached to his head). But by the end of the movie, truth be told, I was more than satisfied. I enjoyed "Scream 4". Coming out of a three film slump with (in order of awful in decreasing order) "Red Eye", "My Soul To Take", and "Cursed" Wes Craven has finally returned with something lively and stylish. His latest film is not one of his most original but like "Vampire In Brooklyn" and "New Nightmare" proves to be one of his more clever pastiches, and if nothing else confirms Craven's position as a master of his medium.

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