Monday, April 25, 2011

Wes Craven & Kevin Williamson's SCRE4M

(Small spoiler ahead)

The first Scream movie and to a somewhat lesser extent Scream 2 had a neat novelty at the time it was released: a horror movie where the characters were aware of what kind of stakes and "rules" happen in a
horror movie. This should go without saying that most psycho-killers don't really care about 'rules' and will kill at whatever may happen (and the stuff about 'virgins' being the first or whatever is just hooey based on writer's conventions, not so much "This is How It's Done"). It had a nice meta quality that was acceptable and fun in the immediate post-Pulp Fiction era of post modern films. But now times have changed, and fifteen years after that first film meta is something that needs a tightrope walker to really pull off - even Matthew Vaughn, who tried his damndest to make Mark Millar's Kick-Ass work on screen, couldn't do it - since there still needs to be something realistic about the characters, something that makes them feel real in some way as people living in the world, while making the satire or commentary. Scream 4 fails with that.

It's not like it starts that way completely; the film opens with a kind of cinematic Inception where what seems to be the start of the film is really inside another film that is inside the film that is Scream 4, being that there's now several 'Stab' sequels (the "fake" movie horror series that is based on the events of the first Scream that started in Scream 2, kinda make sense, like Tropic Thunder's Scorcher series).  That is a creative bit of "meta"-ness and had me chuckling. Matter of fact there are a few moments in this film that had me chuckling or laughing after this, especially one moment I won't elaborate on here except it involves the surprise reveal of a corpse. But it's after this, when it gets into the main story of the 'Return of Ghostface to Woodsboro', the town where it all began with three of the characters (Sidney, Dewey and Gale), that it starts to dip down.

It's not just one thing that made me feel angry (and sometimes even bored) during this movie. The first and more egregious facet was Kevin Williamson's screenplay, which supplants being cheeky and cleverer-than- you for actual scares. While he tries to keep his "gotcha" sense of humor, none of the legitimate horror and suspense of the first couple of films is present here (I don't remember 3 which is enough to say about that). With the exception maybe of Sidney and Dewey, it doesn't seem like characters take much of what's going on super-seriously. To be sure, anyone in this film could be the killer, from the quirky new cop in shady lighting (Marley Shelton) to, hell, Sidney herself, which would've been a nice twist. When the reveal eventually came I was just "eh, whatever", and then Williamson continued to bash this point over our collective heads. It's not funny or insightful as a point anyway, it's just stupid.

"What's my motivation?" "Um... it's a movie, that's your motivation!"  
And another thing is how he doesn't even follow certain logical beats.  In the first part of the climax of the film (I say first as I think there are kind of two climaxes, neither very effective if sort of unintentionally funny), the killer seems to go to very exacting, precise, totally pre-meditated and pre-planned steps (all that's missing are the blueprints back at the bedroom) for making sure all of the characters die and that the killer is given the super thrashing to show the scars and be the new "victim" of the series. Except there is a point that wouldn't make ANY sense if the killer is meaning to tie up all loose ends, so the scene, which feeds into the second part of the climax at the hospital, just made me shake my head. I don't know what the movie was thinking at this point, except that Williamson and Craven fall into one of their own clichés that they act as if they're above and beyond.  That the characters, who lack anything close to depth or relatability (even in a slasher movie, to give you an idea) is another mark against it

Maybe that's more chiefly it, and why I'd focus more on Williamson as the flaw here than Craven (though he certainly isn't a very good director of actors, certainly not for the actor who is revealed as the killer, or one of the killers anyway - that's not a spoiler, by the way, the series always has had two per movie). Aside from this point about not following the logic and lacking suspense, the smugness of the writing is what stands out. Sure you can write a scene that has a killing that is brutal and graphic in its bloodshed, but if we don't care about the characters or the situation what's the point? I didn't feel like anyone here, with the exception of possibly Sidney (to an extent, and even she flies off the rails in the last reel) and Sheriff Dewey (and who knew David Arquette could steal the show?), were real people that I could latch on to. It also doesn't help a 'real' person here, played by Mary McDonnell, doesn't last as long as one would like. No time for that, where's the commentary through new digital media and, uh, stuff?

But on top of not getting us to really care about the stakes and obstacles (some of) these characters are facing, Williamson just reminds us too frakking much that we're watching a "movie". It tries to poke fun at itself, but still wants us to take itself seriously as an honest- to-goodness plot, when so much of the movie lacks cohesion when it falls into the same traps it tries to mock. At this point with the reputation of this town and its denizens, even with the ass-clown movie geek teenage characters that make one pine for Jamie Kennedy and Matthew Lillard, who would go outside for a nano-second? Why even have your phone plugged in or cell phone on? And ultimately when it comes to the big reveal of the killers and what goes from there, this too lacks anything resembling stuff that's in the real world. And if you're going to go this route, go one step further and make the movie end with Wes Craven at the editing system looking at the footage going "Ain't I a stinker?" At least THAT would've brought things back around!

Tarantino should sue! ;)

Seriously, I didn't go into the film wanting to hate it, I have admiration for the films from the 90's and wanted the team to do well.  And for someone like Wes craven I wanted to wish him the best after a lackluster return to directing last year with My Soul to Take.  And yet he's not mostly to blame here (aside from brothers Weinstein).  Williamson has cited rewrites of the script by Scream 3 scribe Erhen  Kruger as possibly liable, but I'm not sure. The whole construction of many of these characters just lacks dramatic tension and drive. It's like what is referred to as being a "hipster", coming off (and for some  it may just be) so cool, but really it's too cool and too aware of itself, like a fake mustache. I eventually got angry at this movie for the choices it made, both in its writing and somewhat in its directing. It's not all the actors fault.

Maybe Stab 8 will be an improvement....

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