This won’t be a long review, because what hasn’t been said about today’s Killtoberfest movie, Scream? Hugely influential, super meta, totally classic. More importantly, how does the heroine who claims to hate horror movies know enough to reference The Town That Dreaded Sundown? PLOT HOLE FOUND, MOVIE DISQUALIFIED
All I really want to talk about is, disregarding the meta, how well the movie works as a classical murder mystery. The rest of this is going to involve SPOILERS, so if you haven’t seen the movie, please do so, it’s really very good. Plus Netflix has them all on Instant.
Everybody good? Okay.
So besides being clever and quippy and funny and meta, Kevin Williamson’s script is also an excellent murder mystery. I say classical because its operations remind me very much of Agatha Christie, where the mystery seems unsolvable until you realize that you were asking the wrong question. (As in “The Murder on the Orient Express”.) In Scream, everybody’s asking who is the murderer, but they should be asking, who are the murderers.
The two killers solution is genius on one level because it allows for one killer (Billy Loomis) to be foregrounded in scene after scene while the murders are happening elsewhere, throwing suspicion off him at every turn. On another level, however, it makes the actual murder sequences much scarier, because it gives a very human killer (something that’s emphasized by his constant pratfalls, which sounds like it would make things less scary, but somehow by making them more real manages to be even creepier) an air of supernatural omnipresence. He seems like he can move too fast, head you off at every turn, call you and stalk you at the same time, because he actually IS in two places at once.
Take the opening–one of the all-time great opening scenes of any movie, horror or not. Drew Barrymore is on the phone with a sadistic killer who has taunted her with trivia questions and threatened her life. Now the killer on the phone says she can live if she can answer one question: is he at the front door or the back? The first time you see it, it’s a chilling literalization of the situation: if she guesses wrong, she’ll die, and not because she loses a trivia contest. The second time the game becomes horrifically cruel: the two killers working in tandem have staked out both doors, and she’s dead either way.
To its further credit, Scream doesn’t climax with the reveal of the two killers. Instead, it ratchets up the tension further and maintains the creepiness. We realize belatedly that Loomis tricked Sydney into sleeping with him. And we listen with horror as the film’s thematic core is revealed: underlying all the jokes and youthful frivolity is a deep-seated generational nihilism that looks not to reality but to fiction and media for meaning, emotion and connection. The subversion of the killer’s types, how the Shaggy-esque goofball and the moody, horny pretty boy are hiding horrifying sociopathy and misogyny–this is the payoff to Scream‘s long and justly lauded set-up, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Scream isn’t without its flaws, but what it does well, it does so well that I forgive any of its minor missteps. This is one of the greats.