Monday, April 18, 2011

Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them

I don't know if you've noticed, but I can be sort of an obsessive geek over things. I know! Crazy. Anyway, for certain properties this makes it kind of hard for me to separate myself enough to give something a truly objective look. I've got other agendas, too many voices duking it out, inside of my head for what I want, what I need, from these things. The Scream films are one of these properties, obviously, and what I want from them has become pretty distilled down to an essence. Eau d'Ghostface if you will. Did Scream 4 deliver?

Well I can't talk about that without getting into
big spoilers, so let's take it after the jump.

I walked out of Scream 4 very very happy for pretty much one reason: my gang survived! All three of them! Sidney, Gale and Dewey all lived to die another day! Every single post that I've done on Scream 4 since it was announced has been some variation on my deeply embedded dread that one or two or all of them were inevitable victims. How could they possibly make it through a fourth film? That'd be nuts! It seemed impossible. So when the final curtain fell and they were still breathing, all their insides still on the inside, well any critical faculties I might have regarding the film just flew out the window. Hooray!

I realize that other people, less spazzier people, might not be so attached to these characters. They might have even been hoping and praying for a different, bloodier outcome altogether. I don't know what to say to that, and that's where my critical faculties fail me. They lived! The movie wins! The end!

Okay okay. I will attempt to divorce myself, ever so slightly, from that angle. If I were voting in my own poll from last week, I'd rate Scream 4 as better than Scream 3 - although, like Glenn, that's not because I hate Scream 3 as many people seem to (I find it a lot of fun) but because I felt as if, with this one the killer felt far less purposeless than the out-of-nowhere "Sid's got a brother!" development in that one. Here it's as if they had the idea of the killer first and the movie grew around that. It wasn't the most groundbreaking of twists - Happy Birthday to Me did it thirty years ago, and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane more recently, but I enjoyed the way Williamson managed to riff on the concept of remakes and reboots through his use of a curdled final girl. And I thought Emma Roberts was a hoot once she got going.

Part of me was mentally willing the film to end before the hospital scenes, with the triumphant survivor character having been so compromised... but that part of me was in a duel with the part of me that didn't want Sid to be left dead there on the floor, and that latter part, irrational and fannish, was destined to win. Thinking about it now, a fifth film could've sprung up as a dark mirror of Halloween II (Carpenter's, that is), starting with Jill in the hospital and finding out Sidney's still alive, and going from there. But it seems at this point that the talk of a second trilogy with the new young hip cast was a fun game of smoke and mirrors, throwing off our scent, and underlining the film's eventual point, right?

And anyway, I really enjoyed the scenes in the hospital. CLEAR!

The film worked to try and keep Sid at the center of the story this time around, doing a better job than Part 3 did, but it still could've, should've, worked a little bit harder. While it was handy for tossing red herrings at us on who might be the killer, in the end all of the scenes with Jill and her friends were distractions that we didn't need - the focus should've been more on Sidney and Jill's relationship... or lack thereof. There should've been a stronger sense of Sidney's arrival in town really truly interrupting Jill's life. Sidney should've been at the center of all of Jill's interactions with her friends a little more, just enough so we the audience could get a better feel for what Jill's had to deal with.

There are a lot of balls you've got to keep in the air with these films, and mostly I think Wes juggled them pretty well. You've got to make EVERYBODY A SUSPECT! So people have got to disappear and reappear at key moments. You've got to lay down motives for everybody without hammering anything down too heavily (until the end, with the sledgehammering speech of true motive, of course). I do think they picked up a few too many balls this time around - hiring an actress as awesome as Mary McDonnell is frankly a distraction if that's all you're gonna do with her. At least hers was the most creative death - knife through mail slot! - in a film that seemed to get a little bored in the middle of its set-pieces and just go for the same ol' stab-stab every time.

So you see, I did have some problems with it, but I still walked out happy. They left my gang intact. Or, you know, mostly. Scarred and beaten and battered and busted up, but breathing. In the vile burg of Woodsboro that's something I dared not dream, and appreciate beyond all reason. Now I'll move along to dreading a fifth film where they'll get killed. Perhaps that's a reason to celebrate the film's less-than-expected box office performance this weekend then?


RJ said...

"But it seems at this point that the talk of a second trilogy with the new young hip cast was a fun game of smoke and mirrors, throwing off our scent, and underlining the film's eventual point, right?"

I was so excited walking out of this, b/c I was afraid that in the age of the Internet, it was impossible for really clever marketing spins like that to work. From day 1, they really did a great job of throwing us off the scent.

I thought the middle section got a little messy, and there were definitely some signs of too many cooks in the kitchen, but it's hard not to walk out feeling good with an ending as great as this one. Emma Roberts. Who knew?

Also, I thought the beginning was a hoot.

JA said...

Yes, I didn't say anything on the beginning, but it was really really funny, and struck the perfect note to begin on. I didn't know my life needed to have Kristen Bell stabbing Anna Paquin in the gut in it until this movie showed me that I did.

shawnp said...

R.I.P. Laurie Strode

Anonymous said...

Was this a movie or an iPhone commercial?

Josh said...

I thought it should have ended about 15 minutes before it did, personally. I mean, can you imagine!? Poor "victim/heroine" Jill being carted out of the bloodbath house on a stretcher, blinded by the flashbulbs of reporters, with a faint smile all the while, then bam! Cut to black, roll credits. Would have been insane!

Gotta say though, there were some things I didn't love about it. The opening was kinda funny, but it went on a few too many times, I think.

Sidney seemed, in spite of her book/talk about how she had moved on and gotten so much stronger, to have actually spent the last 10 years getting weaker and more shell-shocked by her prior experiences. Where'd her trademark ferocity go?

And finally, Woodsboro has the most laughably inept police force in the world. Granted that's par for the course in horror, but still. It got kinda ridiculous toward the end after the main cops died.

Glenn said...

I agree with every single line of this! We're on the same page here, Jason!

Also, I do love that they made it all about Emma Roberts being "Sidney 2.0" and making this new trilogy around her and the new crew and then not only killed every single one of them, but made the "Sidney 2.0" the killer! Amazing. Didn't you find that close up of her face surrounded by flashbulbs to be so... classically hollywood? Like, I almost expected her to say "I'm a STAR!" It reminded me of the end of Black Swan, funnily enough.

If they had to excise any character, I'd say the cops. They were an obvious Last House on the Left reference and didn't do much. How much Brody died easily from a stab to the back yet Anderson was walking around after a knife to the brain? "Fuck Bruce Willis" didn't work either since these films have never made light of death. They've never been a punch line. That was disappointing.

Anyway, I'm gonna write my own pros and cons thing soon.

John from Jersey said...

The first time I saw Scream 3 (the night it opened back in 2000) I was disappointed that Sidney, Gale and Dewey all survived because it just seemed like it was necessary for one, some, or all of them to die in order to outdo Scream 2. And not to mention it was the supposed climax of the trilogy, so why not end with a bang. To some extent, I not only expected them to die, I WANTED them to die for the sake of making the overall trilogy a gutsy and brutal package.

The other day when I watched Scream 4, I found I was now hoping that Sidney, Gale and Dewey would survive. In fact, during the Stab-A-Thon scene when Gale has gone to investigate her hidden cameras, I kept putting my hand over my chest because I could not believe how hard and fast my heart was beating. It was unreal. I had gone from "kill em all" with Scream 3 to "noNoNO" with Scream 4. I was convinced that Gale was going to die, and it was shockingly unbearable getting through that scene. As was the hospital scene where I first thought Sidney would take it upon herself to hurl both Jill and herself out the window as a means to end the killings, or minutes later when Jill reaches for the shard and sneaks up behind Sidney.

I have no hatred for Scream 3. I have grown to love it for the entry that it is, and Parker Posey was outstanding. Two complex characters are better than one.

And Scream 2 is (in my opinion) the best of the four movies. It had two of the best chase/suspense moments (Gale in the music studio, Sidney in the car), it had already established the core story with the first Scream so it had the freedom to just run with it right outta the gate, it had the best motive out of all the killers (a mother avenging the death of her child makes more sense to me than overreacting to a divorce, being a soap-opera-surprise brother or a fame whore wannabe), Beltrami's score has never been better (especially during Gale's chase), it had the balls to kill a surviving main character, and Gale and Sidney had their best hair styles...

John from Jersey said...

One last thing... I agree with the opinion that if they had ended the movie with Jill being wheeled out of the house as the lone survivor, that would have been too impressive and ballsy to hate. And it would have left an amazing angle open for Scream 5. But then we wouldn't have had Sidney's best line of Scream 4 dialogue: "Don't fuck with the original".

Anonymous said...

"Sidney seemed, in spite of her book/talk about how she had moved on and gotten so much stronger, to have actually spent the last 10 years getting weaker and more shell-shocked by her prior experiences. Where'd her trademark ferocity go?"

This. Gale too. I'm not sure it's the actors fault-Gale's career is dead, Sid has gone from plucky heroine to world weary survivor, Dewey is now actually halfway competent and the SHERIFF-on the one hand, the characters should have evolved and changed in 11 years. But they took away the prime trait that defined each of these characters, and as a result I thought all of our returning trio seemed to be phoning in their performance.

I thought the entire movie lacked energy, that pacing was a consistent problem. There was just none of the wit or suspense of the original trilogy (yes, even Scream 4). And other than Emma Roberts, I didn't give one damn about any of the younger set of actors. Rory Culkin's perma sadsack face in particular made me want to punch him, and he made a most unsatisfying killer.

Scream 3 was WAY better than this.

TrG said...

I just came back from it and all I can feel is meh. Lots and lots of meh. I didn't want to feel meh. I guess I just thought they were going to go for something different. Really explore different aspects of the genre ... things that developed in the last 10 years like torture porn or handheld horror or J-Horror or French horror.

They just kind of pasted a few "new" references (Facebook! Saw! Streaming! Twitter!) into a lesser remake of the original. It also felt really ... safe. I knew when every jump was coming. I knew Dewey was going to fuck everything up again (how does he keep getting promotions?).

Though I never ruled out Emma as the killer, I did like that she was the killer. It may be the only thing I liked, though.

And, no, there will not be a part 5. The box office was pretty meh as well.

(There I go sucking the joy out of everything again. Who the hell invited me to this party?)