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SCREAM 4 - THE PIT OF HORROR REVIEW -- [Posted 15 April 2011]

Who'd have thought a decade ago that Wes Craven's Scream franchise would one day elicit nostalgia? The highly successful horror satire trilogy was gobbled up by mainstream audiences, but many horror purists disdained its glossy, over-stylized approach and frequent casting of television stars and celebrity cameos. But the moment Scream 4 begins, with the Dimension logo and the telephone ring, the nostalgia's there, and suddenly it's Y2K again. And that literally is just the beginning.

The now-familiar scenario of teenaged girls being harassed by a menacing caller is given a clever "movie within a movie" twist, and the jaded eye which the original film had upon its own genre is now jaundiced. "Maybe you're over-thinking it," one character tells another in a conversation about Saw killer Jigsaw's motivations. "Maybe you're under-thinking it," comes the tart reply. By the time the title card slam-cuts onto the screen, we have two freshly scliced-and-diced teens on the ten-year anniversary of the Woodsboro murders.

Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who has written a self-help book, has returned to Woodsboro as part of a book-signing promotional tour. Meanwhile Dewey Riley (David Arquette) is now sheriff and married to Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), who has retired from journalism to write fiction. The discovery of the two new victims puts Sidney in lockdown situation in Woodsboro, where she is housed with relatives and begins to bond with her younger cousin Jill (Emma Roberts). And once the new manifestation of the Ghostface killer starts doing his thing, several new characters are trotted out as suspects for the audience.

At Woodsboro High School, a shaken Jill is consoled by her best friends Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) and Olivia (Marielle Jaffe) while trying to dodge her persistent ex-boyfriend Trent (Nico Tortorella). Movie geeks Charlie (Rory Culkin) and Robbie (Erik Knudsen)--who impulsively webcasts with an absurd head-cam and mic--plan the third annual marathon of the fictional Stab series, based on Sidney and the previous murders. At home, Jill's frowsy mom Kate (Mary McDonnell) practically has "Mrs. Loomis" (Scream 2's surprise killer) stamped on her forehead.

As the body count increases, Gale sees a way out of her writer's block by aiding Dewey with her investigative skills, but he's not having it. "You've heard the expression, 'I wrote the book on it,'" she huffs in one of the film's best lines. "Well, I wrote the book on it!" Dewey's pert deputy Judy (Marley Shelton)--who just might have a crush on him, or who just might be the killer--goes out of her way to exclude Gale from the investigation. Another potential suspect is Sidney's caffeine-wired publicist Rebecca (Alison Brie), who sees the new rash of killings as an opportunity to further cash in on the book.

Neve Campbell turns in surely her finest performance as a weathered, older Sidney. Now used to Ghostface-whomever and his sarcastic phone taunts, she's not so much afraid now as simply pissed. She's also learned some ass-kicking skills which come in handy during an early confrontation when the killer attempts to add cousin Jill to the body count. And Sidney also has to endure the accusatory "Why'd ya come back?" rhetoric from fearful locals once the killings start anew. If ever the slasher genre had a tragic character, it's Sidney Prescott.

The Scream formula is considerably amped up from the previous three films. Whereas the cellular phone figured in prominently in the original Scream, now it's cell phones with movie-taking and internet functions. Kevin Williamson's clever script also throws in enough red herrings for a downhome fish fry. While structurally Scream 4 most resembles the first film, the "rules" have evolved, and the twists are not predictable.

Any "whodunnit" story suffers from one downside: once you've been introduced to all the "suspects," the reveal of the true culprit is usually no more of a surprise than if it turned out to be one of the others. They all had a motive, they all the opportunity, so you may as well just draw a name from a hat to finish Act Three. The first Scream had the distinction of pointing out there might be more than one killer. Thankfully this time around, the reveal (who's the killer and is there an accomplice) is a reasonably surprising twist. The numerous false endings during the coda grow a bit tiresome, but not enough to undermine the rest of the film.

With the original trilogy packaged as a story told and concluded, the very idea of a fourth Scream was groan-inducing, at least five or seven years ago when the idea was first batted about. But a full decade later, Scream 4 works thanks to Williamson's smart and crafty script and Wes Craven's masterful direction. Word around the water cooler is that this is the first of a new trilogy. If a fifth and six can be as satisfying and entertaining as Scream 4, bring 'em on, say I.

'SCREAM 4' A Film by Wes Craven.
Written by Kevin Williamson. Directed by Wes Craven.

[DISCUSS ON OUR FORUMS] [Review By Petch Lucas]

Scream 4

YEAR: 2011



RUN TIME 103 minutes (US)