Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Don't Fuck With the Original"

With great anticipation, I went this weekend to see Scream 4, the latest installment in the post-modern slasher series that revitalized the horror genre in the late 90s. At one point a character tells Courtney Cox's Gale Weathers "You were my 90s!" and the same was true for me and series creator Kevin Williamson, the openly gay man who also brought us Dawson's Creek. I avidly followed the original Scream trilogy, as well as Williamson's various films and series, I wrote two plays heavily influenced by his hyper verbal dialogue, and my closet door was even decorated in tribute to his oeuvre. Scream 4 arrives a decade after 3 (which was noticeably *not* written by Williamson), long enough that what's old is new again-- or at the very least an exploitable brand. While Scream 4 isn't particularly scary (no Scream sequel has been as frightening as the ferocious original), it's great fun, and it does a nice job of encapsulating, in the tried and true wink-wink Scream way, everything that's happened to the horror genre over the last ten years. In the amusingly constructed opener, for instance, we get nods to torture porn, Japanese horror, and the self referential conceit itself, as well as acknowledgements of Facebook and Twitter. (The horror!) As the film progresses, there emerges a running discussion of remakes and "reboots," the dominant trend in horror since roughly 2003, and the obligatory "rules" conversation. This last bit proves sketchy at best: for instance, when was it established that gay characters are immune in horror films? (Clearly Williamson and co. missed the gay pal who got creamed by a bus in Bride of Chucky.) Still, Scream 4 has fun updating its style for a new generation, with a marked increase in gore as well as the brutal physicality of the killings. Towards the end, the killer, wanting to appear the "sole surviving" victim, gives themself nasty wounds and even falls back through a glass coffee table, a gleefully insane bit that recalls the deranged energy of the first film's culprits. While the new teens are nicely developed and appealing, it's in the handling of the returning characters that 4 falters at times. Gale's quip that "I've still got it" seems like an attempt to convince the audience (she lacks that oomph the character had in the original movies), and Dewey is given very little to do besides react to his wife's initiative in the murder investigation and fend off the advances of a smitten deputy. (Dewey is the sheriff now, but he's still seemingly as inept and slow on the uptake as ever.) Neve Campbell, who looks stunning, comes off the best, with a typically strong role in the film and a number of strong dramatic scenes-- plus plenty of butt kicking. (The heroine once praised for "having a Linda Hamilton thing going on" decidedly *does* still got it.) The shortcomings are ultimately balanced out by the satisfyingly twisty plot, and the climax proves that the Scream franchise, after all these years, still has something to add to the cultural conversation. The killer's motivation turns out to be a direct product of our exhibitionist, famous-for-being-famous society, making Scream 4 as damning to the 21st century's spawn as part 1 was to the "desensitized little shits" of 1996.

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