Friday, April 15, 2011

When I Grow Up I Want To Be Gale Weathers…

After the first Scream hit theaters, I went to my hairdresser with a magazine photo of Courteney Cox in the movie and asked for the “Gale Weathers” the way I had marched in just about two years earlier and tried my hand at the “The Rachel.” I didn’t care that Gale was supposed to be this over-the-top personality from a low-rate “news” source that somehow thought chunky blonde highlights in otherwise almost black hair would look anything short of crazy. I didn’t care (or maybe I didn’t even fully realize; I was twelve, after all!) that she was kind of a parody within herself and the hair coupled with her garish wardrobe (that lime green suit glows in the dark, can be seen from outer space, and probably still gives Cox nightmares) was meant to be commentary, not a statement to which to aspire to make. Well, it’s been fifteen years since the original Scream debuted and not much as changed. After screening the newest installment of the film, I can honestly say now more than ever, but for much more concrete reasons, I aspire to be Gale Weathers.

I will admit it: as a huge Scream nerd (I can take you down in trivia, Alison Brie!), I had my trepidations about the film. I was concerned it would go the route of The CW’s 90210 or Melrose Place reboots and relegate the favorite survivors from the trilogy to the background as they carved a place in the story for a new, younger generation. But pretty much off the bat, it was clear that while the film would be chock full of fresh faces to which to smear with blood, they were very much ancillary characters-- and very much expendable.

Scream 4 is not a perfect movie-- not by horror movie standards or even when compared to the other three Screams. But to compare is really not entirely fair, as the first three were conceived as a trilogy: three chapters in a book that was closed over a decade ago. When Scream 4 picks up, about ten years has passed, so real time from the last installment, and the world of film, and the world around us, has changed immensely.

Most notably with that younger generation. To them, “Stab," the first film based on the Woodsboro Murders we saw play out in the first Scream, is a classic, and that franchise has gone the route of the Saws of our own world, currently clocking in at number seven. The kids of Woodsboro High are savvy to the way horror films work because they are savvy to the way Hollywood works-- because kids today have media integrated in their everyday lives whether they are looking for it or not. They text; they Tweet; they’re constantly on their cell phones checking in, even when there’s not a crazy, psycho killer on the loose. Scream 4 utilizes all of that technology and then some! One character is a film club chairman in the school and wears a camera on his head at all times, streaming his daily life and activities to a webblog we assume only his mother watches, and even then, just to check up on him and make sure he’s not getting into too much trouble. The use of technology truly grounds and enhances the story, and for once makes a slick slasher feel like it could be occurring in your backyard.

But for every “Holy shit, this is happening” moment comes another, much more exaggerated and garish in its own light image. It is a new decade; there are new rules; and let’s face it, today’s audiences will never again be shocked the way they were when they saw Drew Barrymore’s lifeless body dangling being dragged across a lawn as her mother listened to her ragged breathing slowly fade out on the other end of a phone line. So Scream 4 goes for the flashy kills-- the kills that are so almost physically impossible you can’t suspend your disbelief…especially when you see who was supposedly doing the slicing and dicing and you can’t help but wonder just from where his or her strength came.

Scream 4 also takes meta to a new level. I guess it’s to be expected when shows like Community, Supernatural, and Castle so readily grab from that gimmick bag, and yes, I have always loved the humor the Screams infuse into an otherwise overtly gory genre, but honestly this time around it’s bordering on parody.

Where Williamson is strongest, therefore, is when he is utilizing the kills to offer commentary on the kind of society we have become. Not only can anyone start a website or throw some video online and achieve some level of fame, if not success, from it, now that is the new standard for achievement in the youth culture. It's not enough to have a movie made about your life (or God forbid, a book; no one reads anymore!), now everyone wants to be the one controlling the story. That means not only creating a patsy or a fall-guy (hello, original Scream homage) but also filming real life, real-time footage to upload later. So many studios these days are creating those "This is never before seen footage of unknown events" pseudo-documentaries, for a generation obsessed with sex and violence, why not partake in a little snuff?

Now I know that I’m usually the biggest pusher of “once it’s aired (or in this case, once it’s out), it’s not a spoiler,” so it might come as a surprise that I am being so vague when discussing this film, but it really is the kind of thing I think you just need to see for yourself. You will be endlessly entertained, and it is an enjoyable film experience much more so because it doesn't take itself too seriously. When the film has fun, you have fun. Especially if you are an old-school fan and a purist of the series. Contrary to my greatest fears, the three survivors really live up to their name. They may be a little older, a little worse for the wear, and a little (oh, okay, a lot) out of the loop when it comes to the new "rules" and technology, but they are still as strong as ever and are rewarded with a lot more screen time than expected. Sydney (Neve Campbell) is still front and center, despite an early call from Ghostface warning her that "It's not always about [her]!", and thankfully her maturation has given her wisdom and a bit more of a stoic nature. She is affected by the new killings, sure, but she is no longer on the verge of tears every second-- only when appropriate. Part of that may be because she doesn't really have a personal connection to this new wave of victims-- they are friends of her young cousin's-- but part of it is most definitely that she is just sick and tired of being a victim.

And while Gale herself was never a victim before, the start of this movie certainly sees a different side to her. She is downtrodden, stuck in a rut, and blocked from creativity-- or just writing in general. But the minute the killings start, her ass is kicked into the Gale gear we know and love, and she still manages to have some of the wittier, zingier, one-liners throughout the entire film.

The aforementioned Brie, by the way, does a lovely job of being Gale Weathers 2.0, and some of the best comedy moments in the movie are when those two women are opposite each other. Brie's love of the franchise and her genuine enthusiasm for committing to any role she undertakes shines brightly on the big screen, and I personally would love to watch some kind of spin-off where these two just trade jabs at each other. As a spunky, go-getter publicist, Brie certainly knows how to needle the woman she grew up admiring but never in an annoying Debbie Salt sort of way!

Scream 4 doesn't feel like it's setting up the start of a new trilogy, despite Williamson's admissions to having a new already in mind, because when the end credits roll there are so few people still left standing, you (or at least I) can't help but wonder who there would be left to hold a grudge, even if you can introduce new victims to slaughter. Personally I would love to see a random kid turn out to be Cotton Weary's son (or daughter) and be so pissed at how Sydney stripped him (or her) of quality family time, a new murder spree launches. But perhaps not having a clue where they could go next is exactly what could make this franchise reboot the most creative of its kind.

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