“New decade. New rules.” So says the poster for Scream 4. So then why does the movie feel completely stuck in the 90s? When the original Scream came out it was fresh and new, a cheeky critique and celebration of slasher films. Scream 4 is just a retread of the first Scream, one that feels unconnected from the modern horror world… as well as the 21st century world in general.
Here are five ways that Scream 4 could have begun engaging the world of 2011, and shed that feel of 1993. There are spoilers.En
1) Have fewer white people. The only person of color in Scream 4 is Anthony Anderson as a cop. The rest of the film is filled out with lily white faces. Whatever else you will say about horror in the last twenty years, it’s gotten a touch more inclusive - as has our world in general. The monolithic whiteness of the final act of the film sucks.
2) Engage the found footage genre. Scream 4 makes a half-assed nod to the idea of the found footage genre, but it’s too little, too late. And even the ‘found footage’ shown in the film looks nothing like the found footage movies we’ve come to expect. Found footage is probably the biggest new movement in horror since the original Scream, and it certainly deserved more attention. What are the rules of the found footage horror genre? That would have been a fun deconstruction.
3) Use modern technology. Replace DVDs with VHS, change the makes of the cars and double the size of the cell phones and Scream 4 could be a period piece set right in the heart of the 90s. When Ghostface wants to cast suspicion on a character he has to actually steal that character’s phone to make a call from it. Why would that be? It’s possible to spoof phone numbers. And the kids of Woodsboro live in a world where phones are not the only form of communication. Scream 4 laughs off Facebook in the Stab 7 fake-out open, but why? Why wouldn’t Ghostface - especially 16 year old Ghostface - use text or a webcam? Why wouldn’t the killer use Foursquare or Twitter to stalk victims? For a film about how the ‘young blog generation’ wants to be famous just for being online, Scream 4 pays no attention to the technological world where the kids live - and having a weird headset on one kid isn’t exactly using modern tech. What’s the difference between that headset and a kid with a VHS camcorder on his shoulder, in a practical sense? None.
4) Lose the cinema club. I’m going to break this into two parts.
a) Continuing from the previous point, a cinema club feels hopelessly retro. Wouldn’t it make more sense that the horror fans would have a website and a message board? A live chat with Sidney would have made just as much sense as dragging her to the school for a Q&A; also, having a message board would have opened the suspect pool outside of the school. A strange kid who travels to town for the Stabathon would have added a much-needed red herring in a film where all the red herrings were glaringly red.
b) This movie isn’t even about horror movies! It’s about fame. While Charlie is a horror fan, Jill isn’t, and she’s obviously the brains of the operation. When the film is about the desire for easy, empty fame why not include some of that in the film? It would make much more thematic sense if there were a fan club for a Jersey Shore type show, or some pointlessly famous debutante. Again, the only reason there’s a cinema club is because movies were important in the first Scream - but they’re simply unimportant in this film. Sherrie’s a fan of Stab and fame, not of horror.
5) Kill a main character. Dewey, Gale and Sidney have now floated through four serial killing massacres. And in Scream 4 they have almost nothing to do, as the plot pretty much unfolds all on its own around them. Why keep them alive? The fact that these characters are never in real danger makes them boring, plus there’s no real reason for them to still be involved in the stories. Killing Sidney at the start of the film would have been great on multiple levels - it would have added a sense of danger, and it would have made a nice homage to the original Scream, where the special guest star is killed in the opening (itself obviously a reflexive nod to Psycho). And that could have actually given Gale something to do for the rest of the movie, as opposed to briefly being a red herring and then being a buffoon. But I guess that someone at the studio decided that Neve Campbell and David Arquette are the main motivators for attendance at Scream films. Somehow.
I don’t know that any of these things would have made Scream 4 a better film, but it would have made it feel less like a pointless rehash of what has come before and would have at least slightly acknowledged that yes, this is a new decade.