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Scream 2 (1997)
Scream 2 is one of those rare sequels that reunites almost everyone from the original, on both sides of the screen. Horror master Wes Craven is again coupled with screenwriter Kevin Williamson, while Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, and Jamie Kennedy all reprise their roles. The script in this film is as sharp as, if not sharper, than the first film, and Craven still has a great skill at building fright and suspense. While its predecessor thoroughly interrogates the clichés and tropes of modern slasher films, Scream 2 brings this same wit to the exploration of sequels. It also look, briefly, into the debate over film's influence on real life. While it tends towards a convoluted plot, Scream 2 is nevertheless a worthy successor to its groundbreaking original.
Two years from the infamous Woodsboro murders, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) now both attend Windsor College, and are slowly rebuilding their lives. However, a gruesome double murder at a sneak preview of Stab, a film based on the tragic events of two years earlier, begins a new series of killings that seems to be recreating the Woodsboro massacre. Once again, it seems that almost everyone is a possible suspect, and Sidney must discover the identity of this new killer before she becomes his or her next victim.
The superb cast once again delivers a fantastic performance. Campbell's performance is particularly strong, showing us how Sidney has grown since the previous film. Rather than allowing Sidney to become the “damsel in distress,” even when she is being menaced by the killer, Campbell effectively portrays her as a confident and strong woman who is slowly recovering from a serious emotional trauma. She shows us Sidney’s fear, but, more importantly, she shows us her confidence and her ability to take action. Sidney is the center of the film, and Campbell always guarantees that she is strong and believable. Her skill insures that her performance in Scream 2 will be just as good as in the original Scream.
Following Campbell's lead, Jamie Kennedy is spot on again as Randy, providing us with an entertaining and knowledgeable character that offers a great deal of exposition without ever once being boring. Randy seems to have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of films (one gets the impression that he could teach the film class that he attends), and Kennedy speaks with the assured tone of a person who has complete confidence that he is correct. Not only does he have the best line in the film (Killer: “What’s your favorite scary movie?” Randy: “Showgirls.”), but in many ways he is the audience's anchor throughout the film, bringing welcome laughs and invaluable knowledge. While I've only offered the two best examples, there are really no bad performances in Scream 2. The cohesiveness and skill of the cast is impressive, and an asset few films can boast.
“Sequels suck!” Randy's pronouncement at the beginning of the film hints early on that the script of Scream 2 is something special. Loaded with rich dialogue, the characters of Scream 2 discuss horror films in an entertaining and detailed manner, oblivious to the fact that they are in one. Writer Kevin Williamson, an unabashed horror fan, offers razor sharp observations about genre films, and the audience is treated to a number of delightful debates about sequels, killers' motivations, and the many tropes of horror films that viewers have come to recognize. With his vast and thorough knowledge of genre films, it often seems as though Williamson is speaking through the character of Randy in particular. The character delivers several extended monologues about horror films and sequels, and the audience feels a palpable loss when he is murdered suddenly halfway through the film. This rich, witty dialogue is probably the film's greatest strength, and writer Williamson's greatest contribution to the film's success.
However, despite the witty and entertaining dialogue, the script is also one of the film's greatest weaknesses. The plot is much more complicated than it needs to be; at one point, almost everyone is a very plausible suspect. While this may seem like a good idea on paper, when implemented, it quickly becomes confusing and hard to follow. The ending doesn't offer any revelations or clarification. The killer’s true identity comes out of nowhere, inducing a feeling of “Huh?” rather than “Aha!”. While it is always a good idea to keep the audience guessing, when there are no clues that can be identified in retrospect, it feels like a cheat. Further, while the killer's motivation is fascinating, it is not believable. The killer hopes that, when he finally is caught, his awful murdering rampage will reveal the evil influence of graphic films. However, why he wants to make this statement is left unclear. Williamson has sacrificed believability for satire and, in this case, it doesn’t work.
While Williamson's scriptwriting may be spotty, Wes Craven’s direction is rock solid, beginning with the very first scene. Following Phil and Maureen (Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett), a couple out on a date, the movie opens at the sneak preview of Stab, which Craven presents as loud and chaotic. The studio has handed out ghost costumes and fake knives, and the entire audience is running around, making all kinds of noise. When Phil goes to the restroom, he is brutally stabbed to death. Then, the killer, wearing Phil’s jacket, returns to Maureen, and stabs her in the belly. Maureen staggers up to the stage and dies. Craven diabolically shows the audience howling at what they think must be a publicity stunt. This is masterful sequence accomplishes visually what Williamson does with dialogue, and sets the stage the film’s debate about cinema’s influence on violent behavior.
Scream 2 also demonstrates Craven mastery of suspense. In one particularly nail-biting scene, Sidney and her friend Hallie (Elise Neal) are trapped in the back of a car, and the killer is unconscious in the front seat. One by one, Craven shows us that all of the exits are blocked, and the only avenue of escape is through the driver’s side window. At first, Sidney tries to unmask the killer, but accidentally honks the car horn. She recoils in fear, and then she crawls across the killer's body and out the window. Sidney then coaxes Hallie into making the same, suspenseful journey. Craven milks this scene for all it's worth (aided greatly by the convincing performance of Campbell and Neal). When, Sidney go back to the car to unmask the killer, only to discover that he has vanished, we find ourselves at the edge of our seats. The scene concludes with the brutal murder of Hallie. Craven has created such wonderful suspense that the cliché of the murderer jumping out just when we thought all was safe seems fresh.
Unfortunately, Craven’s direction cannot make up for Williamson’s disjointed plot. While the script gives Craven several tension filled sequences, they are not well connected, making the film feel very episodic. Additionally, there are too many of these individual sequences, which don't actually build towards a climax. The car escape discussed above comes late in the film, following at least four other of these “edge of your seat” sequences. With just some minimal writing, the scenes could almost (with the exception of the first one) be randomly reordered with no real effect upon the film. By the time we reach the climax, Craven's never-ending suspense has become somewhat tedious, making us wish for a more progressive, organized plot.
Despite the serious writing downfalls, Scream 2 is still a very good film, filled with razor sharp wit and some truly suspenseful scenes. The cast is solid, and Craven’s direction is masterful. Williamson’s clever and insightful dialogue more than compensates for the plot’s weaknesses. This film is indeed a worthy successor to Scream.
This review is part of Wes Craven Week, the second of four celebrations of master horror directors done for our Shocktober 2007 event.