Craven's meta-shenanigans are in full-tilt, with good humor to boot
Wes Craven certainly embraces movie meta-analyses with verve. If Scream 3 was like the horror/comedy version of Synecdoche, New York, then Scream 4 is like the horror/comedy version of Inception, but directed by Xzibit ("Yo, I heard you like movies..."). Illustration: the movie starts with a movie within a movie within a movie, with characters in each scene commenting on movies. To quote Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), "How meta can you get?". Yes, it's that silly--but Craven's brazenness makes it work.
Thematically speaking, Scream 4's basic schtick is a commentary on viral fame--how to be truly famous in an era of profound Facebook-driven egotism, what makes something sensational enough to go viral, etc. In other words, Scream 4 differentiates itself from its predecessors by drawing more heavily from its time period, rather than relying solely on the usual satire of horror films, especially endless series like Saw I-VII.
Like any dumb horror film or film that makes fun of dumb horror films, Scream 4 features plenty of failures to confirm the kill and unmask the antagonist. These failures enable a slick twist towards the end, but that doesn't stop them from being just as frustrating as any incident in which movie characters are blatantly stupid.
Now, for a little foray into the casting/acting. Hayden Panettiere, whom I'd written off as hotbait, is actually quite respectable in Scream 4. Not only does she portray a likeable female horror geek, but she does so skillfully. Randy (Scream 1 and 2's aficionado on the "rules of horror") has been replaced with a duo of high school film club nerds portrayed by Erik Knudsen and Charlie Walker; both are quite delightful. Returning Scream veterans Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette go through the motions as always, but their roles have never been demanding enough to showcase any noteworthy acting.
Anyway, while it isn't quite the triumph that the original Scream was, don't the the 4 at the end scare you off; this movie's definitely worth a gander.