So much so that a teenage girl, while watching one of the film-within-a-film ‘Stab’ movies spun off from TV anchorwoman Gale Weathers’s opportunistic books about the Woodsboro murders, openly expresses her disdain for ‘all that post modern, self-aware, meta-shit.’ Nevertheless, the self-conscious Chinese box structure has been retained, together with the copious verbal and visual references to modern and old horror movies: ‘Shaun of the Dead’, ‘Peeping Tom’ and Dario Argento’s giallo slashers.
On the tenth anniversary of Ghostface’s last murder spree, Woodsboro survivor turned self-help author Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns for a book-signing; but no sooner has she emerged ‘Out of Darkness’ than she is plunged back in again. Genre-savvy high school students are once again ‘kids to the slaughter’, each slaying prefaced by a spooky phone call from the masked killer. While Sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and his perky, flirtatious deputy Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton) investigate, Dewey’s wife Gail tries to break her writer’s block by teaming up with permanently filming live-blog nerd Robbie (Eric Knudsen). Sidney, meanwhile, worries about the safety of her young cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and her gorgeous female friends.
Concessions are made to modern technological developments, but the name-checking of Facebook and Twitter only draws attention to how old fashioned the whole enterprise seems. Ditto the side-swipes at more recent horror trends – ‘torture porn’, real-time ‘shaky-cam’ chillers – which are never properly integrated into the film’s baggy formal strategies, and which miserably fail to interrogate those films’ peculiar generic conventions.
Critics were forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement before seeing ‘Scream 4’, so suffice it to say that there are few surprises, and I defy anyone not to predict who is alive at the end of the final reel. There is a moment near the end when the film edges up to a bleak, incisive ending – one which intelligently addresses the important, zeitgeisty issue of a debased ‘victim culture’ that turns tragedy survivors into secular saints and their vicarious readers/viewers into slavering disciples. Sadly, this one moment of promise is cruelly and almost immediately snatched away.
Ultimately, ‘Scream 4’ lacks the courage of its potentially subversive, game-changing convictions and dissipates into a fractured series of stabs in the dark.