Netflix UK TV review: Scream Season 2, Episode 4 (Happy Birthday to Me)
James R | On 22, Jun 2016
Warning: This contains spoilers.
Scream the TV series has so far been a writer’s affair, knowingly playing with the cliches of the genre and unknowingly doing so with ultra-cheesy dialogue. Episode 4 of Season 2, though, proves that it can be a director’s show too – and then some.
The premise is obvious from the episode’s title – Happy Birthday to Me (another excellent choice of an existing horror film name) – and sure enough, we see the teen slasher story pause once more for another of those drug and booze-filled evenings that has always been a franchise staple. But there’s a twist in the works: Ghostface 2.0 (in the guise of Jake) has left a fancy bottle of Ayahuasca (think tequila meets absinthe) on the doorstep. In no time at all, people have started, to use the technical term, tripping balls.
Director Daniel Stamm captures the insanity of the thing with some seriously impressive visuals, from sudden slowdowns and glowing colours to people disappearing and reappearing, not to mention repeated loops and slurred images. If you saw the inventively shot The Last Exorcism, this feels very much like Stamm given a free rein to go crazy and, with the help of editor Dan Riddle, he makes the most of it.
One standout sequence sees Brooke having paranoid hallucinations of Jake, as Stavo tries to calm her down – and Jake’s ghost tells her he’s just trying to get in her pants. It’s a far from subtle depiction of her inner fears and concerns (it’s hardly news to us that she’s concerned and still hung up over the missing Jake), but it’s delivered with jaw-dropping ambition, as the widescreen letterbox shrinks to allow Jake to reach outside the frame of the screen, just to emphasise the intensity of Brooke’s neurosis. An aspect ratio change? It’s the kind of thing that has no business being near a Scream feature film, which, at its best, is exactly what Scream the series is good at.
The party convention, though, has a place in slasher flicks for a reason: it allows all of the characters to interact. While in a film, that might give the killer a wider selection of victims, in a series, where the body count rises less frequently, it means we have a chance to see characters who would normally be sideline players in more detail. Zoe, for example, hooks up with Noah, while Brooke’s teasing and matchmaking presents us with another side of her that we don’t normally see (because she’s normally busy being defined by her relationships with guys).
That Zoe and Noah hook-up, inevitably, goes wrong, as Noah and Audrey end up snogging, while completely off their faces – although a brief moment toys with the idea of the world’s unlikeliest threesome. That leads to further awkwardness between Noah and Audrey (seriously, how long until he pieces that together?) and prompts Zoe to cut ties with Noah. Awww, poor Noah, although did we mention how much we suspect Zoe of being Ghostface 2.0? Everything about her is designed to make her seem as harmless as possible.
Compare that to Eli, whom we see a lot more of this episode – and about time too, after he’s been doing a great impression of Stavo in recent episodes (i.e. staring suspiciously at everyone and doing little else). The weird outsider, we learn, is something of a troublemaker, setting up the surprise birthday party for Kieran in the first place (just so he can use his fake ID to buy booze and get wasted). During the prep for the party, Eli and Emma almost kiss – and she seems to want to – but even that revelation is promisingly brushed aside, when it turns out Eli was lying about Kieran wanting a party to begin with. High five to everyone else who didn’t want to sit through a love triangle for the rest of Season 2. Which leaves us focusing on the important, question of Eli’s ambiguous behaviour. What’s his deal? Does he just really like Emma? Or is there something else going on?
Speaking of Stavo, the show is really keen to set him up as a suspect – nothing says “red herring”, though, like the Sheriff finding a Ghostface 2.0 mask in their bedroom before the season has even hit the halfway mark. After all, how on earth would Stavo get into Audrey’s room to plant that corkscrew in her bed? (Then again, how would anyone else? Scream makes up for any lack in logic with a brilliantly punny text: “Hey Killer, isn’t it fun to be screwed with?” Get it? Screwed?)
Happy Birthday to Me is not all about the party, though, which on the downside, means we get a tired dream sequence at the opening of the episode – and a book labelled “Dream Journal” in big letters for the people tweeting while watching. On the plus side, it means we get more time with Brooke’s mayor dad (Mad Men’s wonderful Bryan Batt), who hams it up by bossing about the new Sheriff, and round things off with the Lakewood beauty pageant (which Mayor Maddox has probably rigged anyway). That leads to the discovery of Jake’s death in the best way possible: his corpse being dropped on to Brooke in the middle of the stage, covering her in blood, intestines and other gooey stuff. It’s like watching an adult version of Get Your Own Back, albeit without Dave Benson Phillips. Hallucinations, puns and a Carrie-like climax? This is hardly classic TV, but this is peak Scream: distinctive, darkly comic and dead easy to watch. Season 1 might have been dubious at first glance, but Season 2 has never been better.
Scream the TV series is available to watch online on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription. Episodes arrive every Tuesday at 8am, within 24 hours of their US debut.