Let's have a little compassion
for Scream 4, shall we? After all, look at all the different
audiences it's trying to please: Saturday night multiplex crowds,
postmodern hipsters and media-watchers who'll appreciate its arch
cultural references, gawkers at celebrities and pretty TV stars, horror/slasher
fans generally, die-hard fans of its particular franchise, and even those
horror fans who liked the first Scream but weren't too thrilled
by the others. That last category would include me, by the way.
So, going in with very modest
expectations, I was therefore quite surprised by how much fun I had.
Even more impressive was how director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson
have been able to fashion a very popcorn-friendly entertainment that
should appeal to all of the above constituencies. Williamson's script
does a solid job of combining pithy one-liners and the convoluted plot
machinations/reveals necessary to constructing what's essentially
a horror-upped whodunit. For its part, Craven's direction comes across
as, well, not quite workmanlike, but nearly so. Aside from the occasional
sight gag, stylistic panache is largely absent in favor of ensuring
that the storytelling meets its necessary degree of deception... but
doesn't tick off viewers in retrospect by being too deceptive.
The high points of Scream
4 are its opening, which is so clever that it should put a smile
on the face of even those who are sick to death of cleverness, and its
ending. The latter, while never quite believable, is satisfying thematically
and reasonably exciting to boot. In between, though, we've got a decidedly
mixed bag. The film introduces so many potential suspects and plot threads
that we begin to feel that we're on a slightly crazed carousel ride
and not sure if the operator has stepped away from the controls to grab
a smoke. So when the story cycles around to a character you haven't
seen in 15 or 20 minutes, you may find yourself thinking, "Oh, yeah,
that's right--I forgot about him/her." Depending on your disposition
you'll find such pacing and structure either exhilarating or, eventually,
somewhat tiresome. Of course all the scenes of investigation or humor
are punctuated by "kills" that are sometimes successful as set pieces,
sometimes not. Again, a mixed bag. What's particularly interesting
is that Scream 4 explicitly pokes fun at the Saw franchise
for killing off characters that the audience doesn't care about...
and then does the same thing itself--unless having supporting cast
members exchange a page or two of comic relief dialogue before offing
them counts as "character development."
Overall, though, Scream 4 is far more enjoyable than it has a right to be. The horror flick of the year? Hardly. But a crass money-grab by the talent involved and/or Dimension Films? Hardly that either. Think about how many movies with a "4" in the title that you can say actually feel inspired, even in small doses, and it's probably a pretty short list. Be prepared to add Scream 4 to it.