Review: Scream 2 (1998)


I think it’s becoming quite something that I feel more nervous about writing the preambles then actual blog posts. But hey, ho, there’s only so much you can do to frame the discussion or warm up before the post. So, with that in mind, have you seen Scream 2? Let me know in the comments below. And if you like my ramblings on horror, then you can find more at my second home- Horror Obsessive.

In the first of two pieces that I wrote on Final Girls in the slasher genre, I discuss Jess Bradford from Black Christmas (1974). The article is also available in audio format (read by the sublime Anne Flowers).


In many ways, I remembered Scream 2 as an indulgent exercise in meta-commentary on the nature of sequels. However, in returning to the 1998 film, I found it to be an odd misfire. It’s a movie where its set pieces are effective (for the most part), but its ideas lack any shading.

Picking up two years after the original film, Scream 2 sees Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) settled into college life with a new best friend, Hallie (Elise Neal) and boyfriend, Derek (Jerry O’Connell). However, this seemingly peaceful existence is interrupted when two college kids are murdered during a screening of Stab (a movie based on the events of the first film that’s adapted from Gale Weather’s book). With the return of an old friend, Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), Sidney must navigate the trials and tribulations of college life whilst figuring out whether or not she can trust those closest to her.

Scream 2 has many thoughts occupying its mind. On a basic meta-level, it wants to explore the nature of sequels, the rules that come with surviving a horror movie sequel, and the effect horror movies have on actual violence. Many of these threads feel like sketches for great themes but are often confined to one scene. In particular, the effect of cinema on real-life violence feels particularly shallow. There’s a debate on it that regresses into a conversation about movie sequels. This is compounded by the reveal of the motives of the killers at the end, which sees a literal murder of this thread when one of the killers says (after shooting their partner in crime), “MY GOD, that old “Blame The Movies” motive. Did you buy that for one second?”

And the opening murder sequence hedges its bets on the issue, with one moment giving way to the erratic fervor of seeing cinematic violence to the horror of seeing it play out in real life. The opening sequence instead works as a meta-commentary on the nature of the first Scream, clearly showing how it bucked many of the slasher trends (including gratuitous nudity and instances of shallow writing) with clever set-up and genuine horror.

It’s ironic then that certain moments in Scream 2 feel like they’re from an inferior slasher movie wherein the characters make silly choices. One such scene comes near the end, where Sidney (after a harrowing escape from Ghostface) goes back to unmask him. It’s framed as an empowering moment due to Sidney choosing to no longer hide from the horror she’s experienced. But it comes across as silly particularly, as Hallie warns her about how smart people would not do what she’s about to do. And the ending to that choice left my eyes rolling.

Despite this problem, some scenes are exceptional. For example, a sequence depicting Sidney in a dress rehearsal for a staging of The Oresteia is effective in its metaphorical potency. In the play, Sidney plays the role of Cassandra, who is cursed by Apollo. Much like her character, she must embrace her burden of fighting Ghostface. This theme of the battle for the soul being played out on the stage, and by extension through art itself, is a fantastic embodiment of the plight of the Final Girl.

At the same time, some of these sequences contain the best instances of filmmaking. In particular, the scene where Sidney (as Cassandra) is running from various masked figures (including Ghostface) is nightmarish in its use of medium shots and flickering editing. The result is a scene that blurs the line between perceived reality and the possible paranoid delusions of the main protagonist.

Elsewhere, the performances fuel the lack of new interesting teenage characters (on the page). In particular, Timothy Olyphant casts an impression as Mickey, who walks a fine line between edgy and empathetic. But the performance that impressed me the most was Liev Schreiber as Cotton Weary. In a film that’s often pulling punches with its satire, Schreiber’s performance carries the weight of ambiguity that defined a collective fascination with figures such as OJ Simpson in the 90s. Schreiber is an amusing and tension-filled presence, from subtle knowing glances to nearby cameras to moments of personal space-breaking confrontation.

This aspect applies to the rest of the cast, who provide the film with a lot of drama and fun, whether it’s David Arquette’s assertive turn as Dewey or Neve Campbell’s slight cheeky edge as Sidney. These smaller character moments are charming, but can’t disguise the film’s lack of substance. Scream 2 often barks more than it bites (via its many tantalizing ideas) but often falls short in seeing them through.


About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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