Ten years after Scream 3, Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson return to the franchise where the characters seem to know more about what makes a good, scary horror film than the director and writer do.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, webcams, torture porn and phone apps are all quickly namechecked to show how up to date this movie is; it's a help as the fashions, hairstyles and slang haven't changed one bit since the first film. There is even a Joshua Tree-era U2 poster on a teen's wall and Neve Campbell doesn't appear to have aged a day.
While the first movie was a smart, witty take on slasher-film tropes, the follow-ups quickly fell into the same trap as the many films that were inspired by it: carte blanche was seemingly given to lift elements from other films as long as there was some smartarse, film-literate character to namecheck the title. Admitting a theft may ease the conscience, but it doesn't make it OK. Nor does Scream 4 ever come up with anything better than the horror films it is continually putting down.
In the end, Scream 4's critique is more whiny than constructive. The postmodernisms quickly become a smokescreen, projecting the film's own shortcomings. The key line of dialogue is "the unexpected is the new cliche"– while it may be an accurate assessment of how lacking in surprise many films are these days, it isn't any way for a film that wants to generate suspense to carry on. As a result, Scream 4 isn't even slightly scary, so reliant is it on loud noises to provide the shocks the plot can't deliver.
Scream 4 is not without enjoyment. It's good to see familiar characters back and the opening moments are quite spirited. But it's a film about horror films without being a horror film itself. It's enough to make you scream.