CHICAGO – The issue of gender identity, especially for those who are born with a vagueness as to what to call themselves between/beyond boy and girl, has come front and center in the U.S., both with the legalization of gay marriage and the callous repudiation of identity by trying to pass laws dismissing it (the North Carolina “bathroom” laws). The performance companies of The Living Canvas and Nothing Without a Company is currently staging “[Trans]formation,” which presents gender identity art by six performers, who perform most of the play in the nude.
Wes Craven Returns to Form With Entertaining ‘Scre4m’
CHICAGO – Wes Craven’s legendary franchise returns this weekend with a decade since its last installment and to a genre that has been almost entirely bereft of creativity since its director started to lose his prominence as one of its best. Can “Scre4m” rejuvenate the slasher genre like the first film did or will it fall victim to the rule that horror sequels almost always suck? With rumors of reshoots, a trouble script process, and a cast of actors who aren’t exactly household names any more, could “Scre4m” be anything but a disappointment?
It makes this horror fan very happy to report that, on multiple levels, “Scre4m” works. It’s not as scary as it could have been (although what fourth part in a franchise honestly is?) as Craven and writers Kevin Williamson and an uncredited Ehren Kruger go for meta-commentary over actual suspense, but there’s simply no denying the craftsmanship on display here. After the worst film of his career, the dreadful “My Soul to Take,” Wes Craven proves yet again that he has the ability to bounce back and offer a bloody slice of entertainment as well-made as most of the films he has inspired in the decades since his debut.
“Scre4m” is a remake, reboot, and sequel rolled into one and a commentary on all of the above. It is as self-aware a film as you’re ever going to see and if that kind of “meta” writing in lieu of actual characters grates on your nerves than you’re likely to have some frayed ones by the time the last drop of blood is spilled. The film makes numerous references to not just “Scream” and its two sequels but to dozens of other horror films as diverse as “Peeping Tom” and “Piranha.” It’s the kind of script in which characters watch “Shaun of the Dead” and answer trivia questions about “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” It is a film about the generation spawned by “Scream” – the people for whom horror movies are a language and a way of life.
Photo credit: Dimension
And, for the truly twisted, an inspiration. Of course, “Scre4m” has to open with a big set-piece in which a recognizable star gets gutted a la Drew Barrymore in “Scream” but this one folds in on itself repeatedly in ways that I won’t spoil here other than to say that it’s a perfect set-up for the film in that it offers something to smile and laugh at without really translating the suspense of that amazing opening sequence from the first film.
It’s almost as if Williamson and Craven are making a commentary on how impossible it is to honestly scare horror fans nowadays. It’s not that they know the rules as defined by the trilogy but that there are no more rules. Anyone can die. Anyone can be the villain. Anyone can be the hero. Ultimately, it is both the strength and the weakness of “Scre4m” that its creators recognize the intelligence of most of their fans and have made a film that barely even tries to scare them but also provides a fascinating, entertaining experience at the same time. The only way this “Scream” will keep you up at night is if it inspires you to write your own horror movie. It is more intellectually engaging and simply entertaining than it is honestly scary.
After the opening set piece, we come upon the infamous Woodsboro on the anniversary of the action of the first film and the return of Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) to the town that has made her famous. After her life story was told in a series of films called “Stab” (which are up to number seven, although Sidney was only featured in the first three, the first of many clever nods to the actual “Scream” movies) based on the books by Gayle Weathers (Courteney Cox), Sidney has decided to tell her life story from her own perspective in a book called “Out of Darkness.” Of course, it’s not long before the ghostface killer has returned to slice up a new generation of horror nuts.
Photo credit: Dimension
The list of potential killers/victims is huge (almost too big). The hapless Dewey (David Arquette) returns in the role of Sheriff with a few recognizable faces on his staff (Marley Shelton, Adam Brody, Anthony Anderson). Sidney’s niece (Emma Roberts) happens to still live in town with her mother (Mary McDonell) and, of course, Sidney has a number of classmates ready for the end of a sharp knife including ones played by Hayden Panettiere, Erik Knudsen, Nico Tortorella, and Rory Culkin. Who is slicing up the locals again? Why now and what relation do they have to Sidney?
“Scre4m” keeps you guessing while the body count rises in creative ways. It doesn’t have that same amazing energy that the first film did but the fact is that very few horror films in history have that rhythm and pace that turned that film into a phenomenon. It’s a tough bar to compare any film to much less a sequel three films down the road. “Scre4m” develops its own rhythm, one even more reliant on jokes within jokes within references within deaths but that works if you’re willing to try and keep up with it. The deaths aren’t as creative as they could have been and one can sense the reshoot/rewrite process at a few points, but “Scre4m” is entertaining, which is way more than can be said for most horror films, period, much less most horror sequels. It won’t have the influence of the original and it’s an incredibly easy film for the trolls to rip apart without really looking at it, but I can’t imagine anyone who truly loves that first trilogy to be disappointed by this clever follow-up/commentary/reboot/remake/sequel/whatever.