Spoilers for Scream, obviously.
Now, I liked Scream 2, the next Killtoberfest movie, when I was watching it. “Good, but not as good as the original” was my basic reaction. This is probably because it takes the “more of the same” approach to sequels, with very little to differentiate it from the original Scream except that Scream did it all first and usually better, too.
What it does have that’s interesting is continuity. As I mentioned in my last Hellraiser review, one of the neat things about the Scream series is that unlike most horror franchises, it follows the protagonists, not the villains. The premise of most horror sequels is “What if [X] came back?” when the premise of the Scream sequels is “What if Sidney was hunted by another killer using similar methods?”
(The premise of the meta aspect of these is “What if we made another Scream movie?” which is really the same as every other horror sequel, but only Scream 2 will admit it to your face. Points for honesty, Scream 2.)
The plot: Sidney is at college, trying to forget about her ordeal, but she can’t because it’s a hit movie opening soon, and also because there are new murders (which brings the press, who love sequels just as much as the rest of us).
Take a look at the opening sequence, because although on a basic level it’s not nearly as good as the original film’s opening (partly this is just because the acting is worse, but mostly it’s because what’s happening is more complex–more on that in a sec), Scream 2‘s opening does have the same “in retrospect, even spookier” effect. In the original the solution to the mystery makes you realize that poor Drew Barrymore never had a chance–which totally invalidates notions the movie references throughout: “Characters in horror movies do this, so smart people shouldn’t.” Scream is on one level a feature length argument that people WILL act like characters in a horror movie for a variety of reasons (including but not limited to “they saw it in a movie”). It described the postmodern cycle of “life imitates art imitates life.”
Scream 2‘s opening the first time you see it is about the compression of that cycle–art imitates life, as shown by the film-within-a-film, “Stab,” and life imitates art, as shown by the audience/killer(s). We actually get to see key moments from the first film restaged and reshot (humorously overblown) in a movie theater filled with fans. The marketers for the film are handing everybody Scream masks and costumes and fake knives. In effect, if you show up to a movie looking for an identity to put on, you will find one–but so will everybody else in the audience, with the result that none of you are unique. The opening sequence culminates in an audience member being murdered by the one person in the crowd who IS unique, because he/she took the offered role and fulfilled it for real.
There’s a lot to unpack there thematically, because the sequence acts as the introduction to the series’ second discussion of identity. If Scream is about identity formation, Scream 2 is about whether or not an individual can actively change that identity. (If you prefer, Scream is about behavioral influences, Scream 2 is about your ability to resist them.) Reframe the cycle: the art you consume gives you an identity which informs the art you create.
Now look at Sidney in this film. Like many college students, she’s trying on different identities to see who she wants to be. At first she’s looking into the sororities–but sorority chick = murder victim, so that’s out. She worries that the killings are forcing her back into her old identity from the first film–the girl who was essentially raped and betrayed by her boyfriend–so she grows suspicious of her current boyfriend and pushes him away.
Then she turns to acting in a play–a strange choice for the character, since she was the most “real” person in the first film–but I think it shows her seeking to control the postmodern cycle rather than be controlled by it. In the play, she’s cast in the role of Cassandra, an archetype of the Doomed Woman, surrounded by men with knives. But in the finale, Sidney goes from an actor on stage to controlling it from behind the scenes, using the scenery and effects to distract and delay her pursuer. If life is going to imitate art, to try and force her into a proscribed role (The Victim), better that she be the one to control the art and thereby gain control over her life. Finally, by repeating her signature move from the first film (1), she rejects the need for an external identity, declaring for her own strength.
I don’t think there’s any need to discuss who is behind the murders this time around; it’s sort of rote and anyway not very related to the interesting parts about what Sidney is going through. HOWEVER it does not spoil anything to point out the “oh shit” rereading of the opening… which is that the solution to the mystery does not actually explain the movie theater murders. We never find out who committed them, and they don’t fit into the plan, anyway. This leaves open the chilling possibility that a Stab fan simply took the opportunity of the movie premiere to get away with murder. Life imitating art…
1 I’m speaking of course of her decision to shoot the killer in the head, just in case he tries to come back. Once is an awesome “fuck you” to horror movies, twice is a tradition.