#17 in my ranking of Wes Craven’s filmography.
#5 in my ranking of the Scream franchise.
This is emblematic of why I don’t really like what the whole “guess who’s the killer” genre has become. It’s become purely about misleading the audience and making them unable to see what’s coming. That’s a plus for many people, obviously, but it actively prevents the film from being about anything, from the narrative actively pursuing any ideas. It also separates the final act from the rest of the film since none of what comes before the it informs the actions of the finale. It ends up being a frustrating viewing experience at best, helped none at all by some very, very questionable narrative choices that ends in simple ridiculousness.
Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) has made it to college two years after the events of the first film. She gets prank calls from people imitating the voice of Ghostface, all of which she takes in stride by using caller ID. The calls are increasing recently because the film, Stab, based on the book written by Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) about the events in Woodsboro, California, has come out. The film actually starts with a preview screening of Stab where two college students are murdered by a new Ghostface where the film introduces its meta elements much earlier than in the previous film. The reason for this is that the movie needs time between the introduction of the idea and the actual fulfillment of the idea in the finale for us to completely forget about it, not that the introduction has any real establishing effect on the film’s antagonist.
Because of the deaths of the two students and the release of the movie, a media circus has descended on the university, led by Gale Weathers with Dewey (David Arquette), Gale’s former and embittered lover as well as former deputy of Woodsboro, in order to provide support to Sidney in this potential time of need.
The first major sign that something was wrong with this film, though, comes with the death of Cici (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a sorority sister in the house that Sidney is potentially rushing (absolutely nothing comes of the idea of Sidney joining a group of vapid young women other than providing the film cannon fodder). The thing is that the deaths at the beginning of the film act as that sort of Drew Barrymore opening by using two movie stars (Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett) who get killed off early (complete with dialogue from Pinkett about the unfair “rules” around black characters in slasher films that the movie then proceeds to…completely fulfill), and then we get Sarah Michelle Gellar going through pretty much the same scene as Barrymore had gone through, only ending with a stunt rather than a dummy hanging from a tree. It feeds into the simplistic idea about sequels spoken about in a film class between Randy (Jamie Kennedy) and Mickey (Timothy Olyphant) about how sequels are always bigger and never as good.
The killings continue in expected fashion, and that’s another frustrating thing about the film. For a franchise that started with this concept of being rule-breaking, it settled into its own convention very quickly. The film was put into production a mere six months after the release of the first one and released almost exactly a year after that first release. It was rushed to take advantage of the sudden popularity of the potential franchise, and that didn’t allow for Kevin Williamson or Wes Craven to take any time to find anything interesting to do. The dictates were, apparently, from the studio to simply make it again. Instead of, perhaps, taking the franchise into a new sub-genre of horror (imagine Randy’s part if his experience in a slasher movie prevented him from recognizing that they’re now in a cosmic horror film) or even going so far into subverting the rules of the genre that absolutely everyone dies and we never even figure out the identity of the killer. Instead, it’s just the same thing again.
Attacks escalate to the point where the police put Sidney under constant watch and suspicion gets pointed at Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), the man Sidney had helped put in jail for a year under the suspicion of the rape and murder of her mother. As things get heated at the school, Sidney and her roommate Hallie (Elise Neal) get taken in a police car, but then Ghostface shows up at a red light, instantly kills the policeman driving. The following sequence is supposed to be tense, but it’s so ridiculous that it was the point where I went from wary about the film to outright hostile to it. The policeman, instead of just shooting, gives a verbal warning even after Ghostface has killed his partner, which gives Ghostface enough time to run him down and crash the car. Ghostface gets knocked out, the policeman killed, and Sidney and Hallie remain alive in the backseat but unable to get out from their own doors, necessitating them peel back the black mesh that separates the front from the back and then climbing over the unconscious Ghostface to get out of the car. They do this twice. There’s supposed tension around them trying to pull Ghostface’s mask off, but they never even do it, and once out they instantly start to run away, giving him time to wake up and get away. No, just no. This was beyond stupid and designed to simply extend the film. It was a situation that Williamson had written the characters into and had no idea how to believably get them out of it without “ruining” the villain’s reveal later. It fails miserably, and I ended up against the movie from that point on.
The final reveal is the kind of ridiculous extended dialogue scene with people screaming, explaining, and threatening, all while, because the film had made every effort to make it impossible to guess the killer, the audience is supposed to be going, “I did not see that coming.” After it was done, I went back to the one moment in the movie where there might have been information given on the real killer’s identity early, and it’s so short with no information actually given that the only way to use it in support of any theory before the reveal is the idea that we don’t actually know what was said, so in terms of red herrings, it was the least obvious red herring in the film, so it must be the right one. There’s no character support, just a quarter of a line of dialogue that gets cut off.
I really disliked this film. The meta stuff does worse than nothing, it actually points out the failings of the film. The emotional center of the first film, Sidney, has been watered down to nothing because the film isn’t about her but about tricking the audience. There was always a somewhat uncomfortable balance between the meta elements in the first film and its emotional core, but it made it work in the end there. Here, the meta elements don’t work, there is no emotional core, and the whole thing is simply an unconvincing magic trick. In other words, it’s kind of exactly what one should expect from the sequel to an unexpected surprise hit rushed to production to hit a release date.