Scream 2 uses a simple argument as its starting point: sequels are by design creatively bankrupt cash grabs that can only shame the original on account that their very existence stems from repetition, not creation. To the returning filmmakers, director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson, this includes the next chapter in Sidney Prescott’s (Neve Campbell) continued quest to elude crazed masked killers. It comes as a surprise then that the movie turns out almost as good as the original, elaborating on its themes and refining its universe all the while keeping the central joke intact.
Consider the opening hook, which somehow tops the original’s in metatextual irony, albeit not in suspense. Set at the premiere of Stab, a thriller within the thriller inspired by the events of the previous instalment, the sequence combines overt parody and social commentary to chilling effect. Avid fans of the franchise may get a kick out of Robert Rodriguez’ Hollywood twist on key scenes from the first Scream (1996). However, I found myself more fascinated with Craven’s horrifying portrayal of a desensitised mob so taken by the thrills of the slasher genre that they confuse a real murder for a stage performance.
The blurred line between life and fiction becomes a recurring theme in Scream 2, which pokes fun at our mass obsession with pop culture and the media at large. Rather than refer to the new Ghostface killer as a copycat, the investigators come to the conclusion that “someone’s taken their love of sequels one step too far.” Cue a series of hilarious discussions about the rules of a horror sequel, most of them led by Randy (Jamie Kennedy), who’s grown into quite the cool cat in his college years.
In fact, I like the characters in Scream 2 a lot more than in the first movie, though my affections are for the most part limited to the returning survivors. Consider the scene in which Dewey (David Arquette) visits the gang at their campus, how everyone gathers around him like he’s a beloved elder sibling who’s just returned home. Deputy Riley, Sydney, Randy, and Gail (Courteney Cox) remain the same people at their core, but they seem warmer here somehow, perhaps because Craven allows them to grow up a bit and show vulnerability. As a result, we care a lot more about their fate when Ghostface starts knocking them off one by one.
One death in particular nearly broke my heart. I never would’ve expected the filmmakers to kill off one of their most beloved characters halfway into the movie, but what makes the scene all the more shocking is the way it subverts the conventions of the slasher genre. Unlike, say, The Cabin in the Woods (2011), which merely mocks long-standing clichés like the night setting and conveniently poor cell phone reception, Scream 2 makes a point of transcending these patterns, setting its most tragic and effective sequence in broad day light while everyone and their mother is chatting on a cell phone.
Scream 2 only falters in its final act, which Williamson had to rewrite at the last minute after his original script was leaked on the Internet. I’d figured out who the killer was just by keeping track of the characters’ whereabouts (and assuming they’re all Olympic joggers), which means the movie doesn’t cheat. However, it’s worth noting that, on a dramatic level, the solution to this particular mystery doesn’t make a lick of sense, relying too heavily on off-screen conversations and our paying attention to glorified extras. Still, our villain’s motives prove well worth the price of admission, topping that of the first Ghostface in both lunacy and social commentary.
You see, more than a mere rehash of the original, Scream 2 extends the former’s thesis to critise our perception of the limelight as the ultimate form of validation. Consider the way Cotton Weary (Liev Schrieber) obsesses over landing an interview with Diane Sawyer. Better yet, compare Ghostface’s final tirade about violence in the media to the attention-hungry stunts of public policy groups then and now condemning the horror genre. Cast as Cassandra in a school production of the classical Greek play, Sydney represents the oracle no one will heed or, to spell things out, the oft neglected insight a scary movie can provide in all that political noise. So what if this happens to include the sound of a shameless cash grab?