Sunday, April 17, 2011

I'm sorry I doubted you, Wes Craven (with some spoilers.)

(Correction--a dear critic corrected me, saying that there are A LOT of spoilers. So be warned about that.)

Thank you, Wes Craven. Thank you very very much.

You have pulled it off.

I have just returned from actually viewing Scream 4, as opposed to just judging it...

It MASSIVELY surpassed my expectations. I should not have doubted Wes Craven's ability to be amazing.
I am sincerely impressed.

Furthermore, I don't even know where to start with this film--besides being accessible for a genre audience, it's actually a really challenging film critically.

Spoiler alert.

The film starts out with what you'd expect a Scream film to start out with--two stupid girls picking up the phone and being subject to murder by a stalker. The title rolls in--Stab 6. What?

Ok, cute. Wes Craven's doing a sort of Nolan-esque thing, starting us off in a film within a film. Two blonde girls, (actresses whose names I do not know, but who were recognizable,) sit on a couch, discussing the metaphysics of horror films. In an amazing way, I might add--I was very pleased to find that the movie was mostly self aware even to the point that it was discussing the now overdone cliche of being self aware in a horror movie, and making fun of overly long franchises, which, now that it has left trilogy status, Scream has technically become.

Suddenly! One of the girls is killed in a rather creative way, but the killer is also revealed--we are confused. Don't we have an hour and forty seven minutes left? How come you just killed her? Regardless, I was totally willing to watch the movie with the new introduced plot .
BUTWAITTHERE'SMORE. Another title, Stab 8, rolls onto the screen, and the camera again zooms away from a flat screen television onto to more girls sitting on a couch.

What. What is happening. My mind has exploded. So great. The new two girls discuss Woodsborough, and the fact that the Stab movies are based on Sidney Prescott, (introducing the fact that the Stab movies are the Scream universe's version of itself,) and set up the fact that it is the anniversary of the plot in question. Both girls are killed, more dramatically than any of the previous, and we are pounded with the dramatic white block lettering of our real title, with much more of an impact than it would have had when the other titles rolled onto the screen.

Perfection. It was rather ridiculous, but it was clearly supposed to be ridiculous. It set up for the almost all of the major themes in the film, such as
-self awareness in movies
-making fun of franchises, therefore, making fun of itself (more self awareness)
-the importance of movies in culture/a microculture
-the importance of culture's influence on movies
-the fame of Sidney Prescott's story in Woodsborough
-whether or not it is a good thing to turn tragedy into horror
-how awesome Wes Craven is.

These themes were, of course, continued strongly throughout the rest of the film. The media was analyzed and criticized appropriately; the current generation received the same treatment. Particularly under examination was technology--from the first minute of the film, we saw stupid teenagers using facebook on their cellphones (/iphones, yay product placement!) and getting killed immediately thereafter. The trouble with identity  confusion that can come from  a digital world where everybody is inherently connected to their phone number and facebook account was used  to an almost Shakespearean level.

This, of course, made it more difficult to find out who the killer really was--as per usual, everyone was a suspect, but having phones constantly stolen from supposed "victims--" and we know that, in this franchise, you can never really believe what you see--made one wonder who was at the other end of the text message.

Technology was also used with plentiful webcam views, which was overemphasized in ads, but still an important part of the movie and very effective. Particularly poignant was one drunken victim, watching the live feed from his handheld webcam on his phone--so he saw the killer in the screen before he did in real life...still on the screen.

There's one big thing I want to discuss that is a HUGE spoiler, and I'd really hate to ruin it for you, but I will--the killer is female. I won't name names, because I was actually really surprised. Craven leads us so brilliantly to believe that he's doing the same thing he did in the original--and since, in this movie, all the characters have essentially seen the original, in the form of the fictional Stab, they too believe that the killers will fit the same type. I did know something fishy was up--the suspect boyfriend's character was never developed quite enough, and the actual killer was weird throughout the film--something I simply attributed to bad acting.

Having the killer be female is a huge statement for horror film. It isn't as if this is the first time we've had a female killer, but having it be so otherwise traditional, and having the victims still be female--was quite intense. This is, at once, empowering and victimizing to the female character, in positive and negative ways. Scream has always been the most empowering slasher franchise for women, I think, because you don't have to do any sort of analysis to understand the survivorgirl status of Neve Cambell, emphasized by her ridiculously badass, almost action movie-esque clincher lines. However, this is particularly empowering--although the movie focuses a lot on whether Sidney is a victim or not, as a (apparently still virginal? quote, "Sidney's problem is that she never gets laid," so it would appear so?) woman, but it is clear that women are not only victims because the aggressor is also female.

However!! The female killer has been created, ironically, by Sidney herself. Her motives lie in wanting to live up to Sidney's fame, in a world where fame doesn't necessarily come from talent, but from "having f*cked up sh*t happen to you," a technique which Sidney is a perfect example of--but that rings very true in our culture today. The killer is ultimately a victim of Sidney's victimization.

Most importantly, I think, this movie discusses in depth the "new rules" of horror. Wes Craven has as much authority to discuss these as he did to discuss the "old" rules, having remade many of his movies himself. The basis of the new rules is that, to successfully scare audiences, you have to reverse the old rules. You must anticipate the audiences expectations, and simply destroy them. This new movie does that, and discusses it, very effectively. The beautiful irony is that, arguably, the original Scream is what nullified the "old rules." Once a movie like that comes out, revealing all the secrets to the audience, essentially, in an official sort of way, you can't seriously make a film that follows those same strategies.

The thing that Scre4m doesn't discuss is that you still do have to adhere to those old rules, somewhat, to satisfy the audience. No, they're no longer pleased with a straight up slasher, but they do still want that moment of "don't open the door!" that characterized the old films so much. In a genre with as visible a progression as the slasher genre, it is almost impossible to make a film without paying homage to the other movies that made that one possible--even this movie has at least three shout outs to Psycho. Audiences expect that nostalgic feel when they see a slasher movie, and this one puts that out there very effectively.

My favorite thing about this franchise is that it points out to a mass audience something that I already know. By being presented as a real horror film--ie, one in which all the characters, in it's own universe, are real and to be taken seriously--but also discussing every step of the plot, it shows something very important that any genre fan believes--we are all, essentially, living in a movie.

"I judge life by its cinematic counterpart. It makes it worth the seven dollars I paid to get in." -ZS 

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