Vampire, weak end

OMG. Went to the Curzon yesterday afternoon to be among the first teenage girls to catch the penultimate installment in the Twilight saga: Breaking Dawn Pt 1. As with all movie franchises based on popular novels, the studio has chopped the final part into two, so as to wring as much money as possible from the devotees who’ve made it such a box office success. There’s nothing like treating your captive audience as mugs, eh? If they’re stupid enough to effectively pay twice to see the fourth and final part, then fuck ’em, right? I am not a devotee of Stephanie Meyer’s novels, but I have been pretty faithful to the films, hooked in not by the same things that hook in teenage girls, but by a sense of deep astonishment that this passes as entertainment among today’s adolescent goths.

I admit, I saw New Moon, the second film, in 2009, before I saw the first, Twilight. And as far as I know, even, ahem, “Twihards” think the second film inferior to the first. It is. In it, very little actually happens beyond Bella and Edward and Jakob mooning over each other near a forest. Things picked up a bit, plotwise, in last year’s Eclipse, in that more people seemed to be trying to kill other people, but oh boy, do things slow down again in Breaking Dawn.

If this film, which lasts the full 117 minutes, is faithful to the book, then let’s hope it’s the boring half. Honestly, for all that actually happens, they could have dashed this one off in about 40 minutes. My guess – and it is a guess – is that the fourth book doesn’t have enough in it to merit an eventual 230 minute running time over two installments. But Summit Entertainment, who have thus far taken $1.8 billion with their hit series, couldn’t resist dragging it out. I don’t know if you care or not, but Bella, the pallid human, and Edward, the pallid vampire, get married in Breaking Dawn, and – no spoilers, as real fans know this already, and it’s in the trailer – Bella gets pregnant. But with what? That is essentially the plot. There are more smoulder-offs between Edward and Jakob, and more teasing between Bella and Jakob, and – new thrill! – some marital sex between Edward and Bella (chastely shown for a 12A audience), but it’s more of the same other than that.

Only in a film this desperate to stretch out the material over two parts would a wedding scene actually include all the speeches. The action only really picks up in the second hour, and the biggest plot-driver occurs in a post-credits teaser for Pt 2. Hey, stay to the end, kids! They’re making you cough up twice for this, so make sure you drain every last drop out of your first visit to the cinema.

My love-hate relationship with Twilight – or my bafflement-hate relationship, to be more precise – is stoked by the underwhelming presence of stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, who seem to exist in a permanent vegetative state. Their characters are so in love they will, we are told, risk everything for the other, not least social exclusion, possible infection and death. And yet, their expressions suggest little more than irritation. Stewart is particularly inexpressive and inarticulate as an actor. There’s so much apparently going on beneath the surface and yet, little evidence from where I’m sitting. (There are some of those computer-generated keyhole surgery shots inside Bella’s body in Breaking Dawn, racing through her veins, and it’s a shock to see that something is truly going on under her pallid skin.) Gosh, I hope teenagers aren’t like this in real life.

I guess I will have to see Pt 2 of Breaking Dawn whenever it comes out – which will be at the exact moment the accountants and marketing departments decide it will maximise potential profit margins – but I will do so only grudgingly. They’ve got me. I resent them for that. I know I’m not the target audience (I was the only male, and only one of two people not in a school uniform at yesterday’s 3pm showing), but neither am I Harry Potter’s and I can easily get why that’s so popular. I wonder if the demographically targeted youngsters around me enjoyed it. Two girls in the row behind kept laughing. Should they have been? Isn’t it all supposed to be rather grave?

Actually, the CGI wolves were quite exciting.


Meta, are you better?

Scream 4 advertises itself with the line: “New decade. New rules.” These “rules” are a recurring motif. Because eleven years – that’s eleven years – have elapsed since Scream 3, Scream 4 is sort of presented as a “reboot.” And I mean sort of. An actual “reboot” would usually either come as an “origins” story, or as a re-cast version of the original which wipes away all traces in order to start again. Well, despite Dimension’s desire to re-start the franchise, with a new trilogy mooted, this is neither. And there’s the central problem with it.

If ever a franchise could reboot itself, it’s Scream. I’m assuming we all loved Scream? I know I did. In 1996, when Kevin Williamson’s original idea came to glorious fruition, it was something new: a slasher film in which the characters have seen all the other slasher films. It was funny and scary. This is no mean feat. And it was clever. It rewarded the geeks, and it spoon-fed the non-geeks, while patronising neither. And of course, Scream 2 and Scream 3 worked because they were a sequel and a threequel with plenty of material to draw on from the horror franchise pool.

But Scream 4, despite being written by Williamson, and directed by Wes Craven, does not work. And it does not work because it is a lazy film that can’t even be bothered to make jokes about how lazy it is. Which is very lazy indeed. In it, Sidney (Neve Campbell) returns to Woodsboro on the anniversary of the first killing, to promote her self-help book. This ought to be a reasonable way back in: the town is still famous for the original murders, and two other lifers, Courteney Cox’s now ex-reporter and David Arquette’s now-Sheriff, still live there. Meanwhile, the high school has been repopulated with younger, more nubile kids seemingly happy to leave windows open and engage gravel-voiced nutters in phone conversations: we have Emma Roberts, Claire off of Heroes, Rory Culkin … there are also pop-iconic cameos for True Blood’s Anna Paquin, Battlestar’s Mary McDonnell and Veronica Mars’ Kristen Bell. But it seems that all the fun went into the casting.

The film geeks – here: Culkin, a constant video-blogging Erik Knudsen (Saw II), and Hayden Panettiere herself – keep a running commentary on how a “reboot” or “remake” works, and how “meta” everything is (there’s a decent enough running gag about the fictional Stab franchise, now up to Stab 7 and subject to its own Stabathon), and yet Scream 4 is not “meta” enough. References to other developments in horror, such as the Saw movies (“I hate that torture porn shit”) and the Ring series are thrown away, and once you get past the self-referential dialogue, you realise that the film itself – the film you’re watching – is just another suburban slasher film.

None of the clever ideas in the script find their way into the film, if you see what I mean. Wouldn’t it have been funnier, and cleverer, if market forces had made Scream 4 a torture porn parody? Or a Japanese ghost story parody? This way, it would have been a satire on the evolution of the genre. As it stands, it’s just a parody of the type of film it set out to parody in 1996. That’s a long time in horror.

And guess what? It quickly gets boring. The first time we heard a character reference a slasher trope and then fall victim to that trope, it was revolutionary. When the two cops sent to guard Sidney’s house have a “meta” discussion about the fate of cops in horror movies, we’re almost there again (at least it’s an area not yet covered in previous Scream films), but they don’t do anything with it. They talk about how cops get killed unless they’re Bruce Willis – which is a pretty dated seeming and lazy reference anyway – and, without giving away if or how they get killed, the pay-off line is … “Fuck Bruce Willis,” which isn’t funny or clever, or logical. Did Williamson’s screenplay actually end with the words, “Will this do?”

Anyway, it’s a wasted opportunity. I love “meta” when it’s done as well as Williamson once did it. But there’s only a very thin veneer of “meta” around Scream 4. And that rather goes again “meta”, doesn’t it?

(I’ve just re-read this entry and it does not give away who gets killed or who doesn’t get killed, so I am safe with the film company. Mind you, if you care who gets killed or not killed, you are a more patient man than I am.)