'Scream 4'... You See Everything Coming

The Screams have always focused on the grisly business of turning horror into entertainment, and predictable entertainment at that.

Scream 4

Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Adam Brody, Aimee Teegarden, Nico Tortorella
Rated: R
Studio: Dimension Films
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-04-15 (General release)
UK date: 2011-04-15 (General release)

"All right then, I'll go rogue." Told by a cop that she can't interfere in a police investigation and worse, that she doesn't know what she's doing, journalist Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) is not having it. Again. And yes, even if she has been stuck in the teeny sleepyville of Woodsboro for a decade, having married the very cop who's telling her to stand down, the erstwhile Deputy and current Chief Dewey (David Arquette), Gale knows what it means to go rogue. Again. Maybe.

It's hard to say whether Gale's fit of fury is riffing off anything she's absorbed from media or whether it's designed for the rest of us, who are all too familiar with all the permutations of the phrase "going rogue." But before you can say "unnamed McCain advisor," Gale has stomped out of Dewey's office in search of action, that is, someone who can tell her something about the latest version of Ghostface now stalking Woodsboro. And yes, the move is completely familiar to the rest of us, who've seen her in the first three Screams.

What Gale finds out is not precisely a surprise either. The new Ghostface is marking Sid's (Neve Campbel) return to town, signing copies of her new self-helpy memoir and hoping to reclaim her identity, still momless and boyfriendless, and perhaps a little tense around Gale. It's not a little cute that their reunion takes place in a bookstore soon turned into a crime scene when it's discovered a cell phone affiliated with the latest murder is nearby. As Sid and her fans -- and Gale -- all wonder what to do, Dewey and his deputy, Judy (Marley Shelton), locate the phone and smears of blood on Sid's posters in the trunk of her rental car. It's a warning, all right.

As Dewey and Judy are constrained by protocol, Gale heads off in that other direction she promised, and soon finds herself a couple of slasher movie geeks, knowing from prior experience they'll be chatty smartasses who have a stake in how the killing spree goes. And indeed, Robbie (Erik Knudsen) and Charlie (Rory Culkin) have plenty to say on the subject of films and serial killers, beginning with the most obvious -- anything you've seen before will return twisted and redoubled and reframed in the sequel. And since everyone watching already knows the meta bit, it must be twisted yet again, so it's more meta. Again.

Robbie's bit is rather literal: as he arrives at crime scenes and parties about to be crime scenes equipped with a camera on his ear, so he can stream his bloggy experience live -- or, as you can't help but anticipate, dying. Scream 4 cuts occasionally to this grainy perspective, so you can see what someone watching another screen might be seeing. The very concept suggests the strain the filmmakers were under, to drag the current project into the new day of Twitter and Facebook, while also flicking back to Peeping Tom, cited by one angry killer as the first slasher film. If the claim isn’t news, it draws attention to the lack of possible news, here and perhaps in the genre. If everything's been done, if all perspectives have been tried, all penetrations perfected, and all motives worn out, then where can a franchise go?

In circles, apparently. Sid spends too much time remembering her own past and seeing it embodied in her cousin, Jill (Emma Roberts). Like Sid, Jill has sexed-out girlfriends who will meet fates they don't quite deserve and a mom who's not exactly dependable. (Mary McDonnell plays her as if she hasn't got a script, seeming to wander in and out of scenes and responding to someone else's conversation in order to note that like her dead sister who was also Sid's mom, "I've got scars.") Jill is briefly impressed when Sid turns kick-ass on Ghostface, taking him down a half-flight of starts in order to save the girl's life, but resents the fact that she's put on lockdown when the killer informs Sid that he's out to get her family. Ah well, Sid sighs, standing in the bedroom doorway while Jill glowers at her, "You remind me of me."

Of course she does.

At least one point of the various slasher series of the '80s and '90s was sorting out the role of the Last Girl, that good girl whom the stalker most coveted and whose mounting terror appealed in various ways to viewers. While you identified with her or feared for her, the Nancys and Lauries and Sallys beat back their demons, but at awful costs, losing friends and family members to unkillable killers, not to mention their own peace of mind. The Scream films showed repeatedly that such costs were redoubled in their repetitions, in the news and tabloid stories, the Gale Weathers books, and the multiple Stabs. This franchise's other point, in other words, was sorting out the grisly business of turning horror into entertainment, and predictable entertainment at that.

Scream 4 combines these ideas. This time, there's more than one potential Last Girl, who again must confront not only Ghostface, but also life after, as a victim and survivor, and so, as yet another franchise product. And, as Last Girls always learn, there's no chance of going rogue.


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