Old exes can be a complete horror show.
Though relationships end, they echo. Sometimes they leave us with good memories, decent sex fantasies that will last a lifetime and a sense of emotional growth. And other relationships leave us with straight-up PTSD.
Wes Craven's Scream 2 is definitely about the latter.
It is also a comment on horror sequels. It is a fun time revisiting favorite characters. It's an opportunity to see Jerry O'Connell and Timothy Olyphant at their most young and handsome. It has Neve Campbell at her most badass and Courteney Cox with her best hairdo of the series. It has raised stakes, a compelling mystery and a higher body count than Scream.
But from the perspective of the character Sidney Prescott, Scream 2 is about the ways her twisted ex-boyfriend, his mommy issues and his diabolical mind fucks continue to haunt her from the grave.
Maybe your ex was abusive, drunk, passive-aggressive, randomly angry or seriously damaged. Maybe they were cruel, mean, manipulative or angry. Maybe they took the insecurities you already had and played them like a piano, so you didn't know who you were anymore or how to escape. Most of us, particularly in our community, have been through that a few times, unless you've been incredibly lucky.
To recap Scream, in case you missed it, our heroine Sidney's ex-boyfriend Billy Loomis was a deranged serial killer who murdered her mother and was hacking up her friends, then he gaslit her into sleeping with him when she felt guilty for ever doubting his love and innocence. And their breakup involved her stabbing and shooting him to death at a party when he (and his superhot dudebro Stu) tried to kill her.
The Sidney we meet at the beginning of Scream 2 carries with her all the strength and resourcefulness she'd gained by the end of Scream. But she also carries all of the baggage - the trust issues, uncertainty and self-doubt - that comes when some horrible, random incident has turned your world upside down.
When we meet her new boyfriend Derek, who is handsome and seems kind, we wonder how Sidney could possibly date someone so soon after the massacre from the first movie. And we know that Derek is in trouble - or he is trouble. And Sidney cannot convince herself either way.
Rebounds are always an iffy prospect.
In 1997, when Scream 2 was filmed on several college campuses all around Atlanta, including Georgia State and Agnes Scott, I was a 21-year-old journalism student in Athens at the University of Georgia. And a guy I was dating was the target of multiple hate crimes on campus, his dorm door set on fire multiple times over several weeks until the campus was in a panic.
One night, he was crying in his dorm room, moved by all the attention and press the situation was getting. He was building a scrapbook to show his mother, saying one person could make a difference. Feeling overwhelmed, he started to cry.
"It's not your fault," I said to him. "It's the fault of the person doing this to you."
Eventually, the police captured a suspect, who confessed to the arson after hours of questioning. The arsonist was the guy I was dating, who had staged the hate crimes against himself. And he got expelled and punished.
It messed things up for gay people all over campus. It caused a lot of stress, a lot of bridges had to be reconstructed between gay rights organizations and the university.
And, personally, it caused me to wonder, "Maybe I just attract bad, crazy people. Maybe I deserve bad, crazy people."
Some days, I still wonder that.
Sidney spends all of Scream 2 wondering the same thing about herself. When all her friends and classmates at Windsor College start getting butchered, starting with cameo appearances by Omar Epps, Jada Pinkett Smith and Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sidney is warned by Deputy Dewey that the killer is probably someone she already knows, someone perverse who gets off on being so close while wreaking such havoc.
And though she describes Derek as "nice guy, pre-med, no apparent psychotic tendencies," every seed of doubt about the guy - and about herself - leads Sidney to think that maybe she picked a bad dude all over again. Do we always repeat the same patterns and the same mistakes? Can we fix ourselves enough - from the damage done not only by bad partners but by a culture that so often makes us feel like we are mistakes or wrong or sinners - to deserve good love?
Scream 2's answer for Sidney is surprising. And the fraternity necklace that she wears for the remainder of the entire Scream series, given to her by Derek during a tension-breaking, cathartic, big-gesture silly love scene in the middle of a horror movie, is proof of that. You can learn to accept good love, but sometimes it won't make you happy, sure or safe. You can get a hot pre-med sweetheart and not know what the hell to make of the situation, and that's OK. Sometimes, when things seem too good to be true, that's our own insecurity.
Scream 2 tells us to fight for ourselves, just as Sidney does. She keeps her guard up and uses her defensiveness to her advantage. She becomes a model of strength, even when surrounded by doom.
When we hold ourselves up above all the untrue, vicious shit that everybody wants us to tell us about ourselves, when we fight the shit that our own brains tell us about ourselves, we are survivors. We are the Final Girl staring down a never-completely-dead monster, shooting it to death a dozen times, just in case.
On Wednesday, October 9th at 7pm— WUSSY and Plaza Theatre present SCREAM 2 hosted by Brigitte Bidet and Molly Rimswell. Grab your tickets here for this special one night event!
Benjamin Carr, a writer and storyteller originally from Buford, Ga., has previously been published in The Guardian, Pembroke Magazine and other publications. He is one of the founders of gutwrench, an online literary journal.