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.)