VOD film review: Scream 2
James R | On 11, Jan 2022
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Jamie Kennedy
“I got my whole defence planned out. I’m gonna blame the movies.” Those are the words said near the end of Scream 2, Wes Craven’s sequel to the groundbreaking, influential Scream. A sequel to a self-aware parody of slasher franchises with countless sequels? It’s either a risky proposition or a no-brainer, but Kevin Williamson had already conceived the idea, with outlines for potential sequels included with his script pitch for the original film.
The second film in what would, indeed, become its own successful franchise gets off to a typically meta-start, as we follow two Windsor College students (Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett) attending a preview screening of a film based on the events of Scream – brilliantly titled “Stab”. During that screening, it’s no spoiler to say that some people come a cropper, with onlookers mistaking the whole thing as a prank for a PR stunt. The relationship between horror movies and real-life violence has long been a contentious debate, and Williamson’s script tackles all those concerns, whether it’s commenting on the desensitised nature of modern cinemagoers or introducing a copycat killer echoing the first film and taking on the guise of Ghostface.
Within the opening 20 minutes, we’re treated to a typically heated discussion on the merits of sequels in the first place, featuring film geek Randy (an entertaining Jamie Kennedy), student Cici Cooper (a forthright Sarah Michelle Gellar) and movie obsessive Mickey (a wonderfully intense Timothy Olyphant). Mickie is the best friend of Derek (Jerry O’Connell), the new do-gooder boyfriend of Sidney (Neve Campbell), who is attending Windsor college and attempting to move on with her life. But when the killings start up, the past returns too, in the form of reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), whose book about the Woodsboro murders was the basis of “Stab”, and kind-hearted cop Dewey (David Arquette).
It’s not often that horror franchises have so many returning characters – the Final Girl is a singular term for a reason – and that gives Scream 2 a surprising amount of heft, as we catch up with familiar faces but also watch them dealing with the trauma and aftermath of the first film. Neve Campbell, in particular, is excellent as the doubly haunted Sidney, a tough and resilient figure who – in another post-modern flourish – literally faces her fears through the medium of drama, as she takes on the cathartic role of Cassandra in a college production of the Greek tragedy.
Emotional weight, deceptively layered themes and a resourcefulness to survive are reasons enough to root for our hero, but Scream 2 isn’t happy just to rely on that for its success. Wes Craven, returning at the helm, outdoes the first outing with set piece after set piece that find new wince-inducing ways to conjure up fresh terror – he increasingly moves away from the classic confines of an empty house, with sequences in soundproof studios, lecture halls, cavernous theatres and even (in one bravura sequence) the wide open, daylit greenery of campus. One particularly nailbiting moment sees Sidney face to face with Ghostface in a car, before Craven playfully finds a way for us to have to relive the suspense again by repeating the confrontation a second time.
All this plus a script that deliberately wrongfoots us – several versions of the script existed to counter leaks while filming – leaves us with a sequel that explicitly aims to be more graphic than its predecessor, while still managing to be funny. That’s partly thanks to a stacked cast, including Laurie Metcalf as a rival reporter to Gail, Luke Wilson and Heather Graham as “Stab” equivalents of the main cast and – in the best piece of casting – Liev Schreiber as the wrongly accused Cotton Weary, who Schreiber plays as a figure teetering between calm politeness and pent-up frustration. The result balances following convention and skewering it with thrilling wit, managing to have its cake and eat it in almost every regard – a good trick the first time round, but to pull off it twice? Now that’s really impressive.