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Wednesday, February 2, 2022

How ‘Scream’ Boldly Gives a Middle Finger to Toxic Fandom [Spoilers]

I walked out of Scream with a smile on my face. And no, it’s not because I get my jollies from watching teenagers and otherwise competent adults get sliced and diced by a maniac in a mask. Scream successfully reinvents the franchise and is the most audacious entry in the series to date. Rather than just critique the genre and the world in which we inhabit as per usual, Scream aims squarely at toxic fandom, franchises, itself, and our overall obsession with nostalgia.

As the British say, that’s the rub. The fifth film in this franchise is fully aware of the baked-in irony. By balancing those contradictions, Radio Silence, Kevin Williamson, and the über talented cast and crew did the equivalent of jumping off the high dive into a kiddie pool. More importantly, they weren’t afraid to, pardon the pun, keep the satire sharp by telling fans to look themselves in the mirror and ask some serious questions.

Heads up: Potential spoilers for this year’s brand new Scream movie are below this line. If you’re sensitive about even the smallest plot reveal, turn away now.

You can’t have Halloween without Jamie Lee. At least, that’s what a character in Scream tells a bemused Sidney Prescott and us. The OG Scream parodied teen slashers. Yet here we are two decades later, and the franchise still can’t resist the urge to focus on characters who are eons removed from pencils, books, and Principal Henry Winkler’s dirty looks.

At least that’s how it seems.

Legacy sequels, if done well, use characters we love as Trojan Horses for new characters. In some cases, even with that purpose in mind, the movies and franchises can’t help but stay attached to the hip of the original stars. 2018’s Halloween is about generational trauma at its core. In theory, Laurie Strode’s daughter and granddaughter are just as important to that story as Laurie. In theory. Yet no matter how hard the movie tries, it, along with Halloween Kills, can’t function without Laurie at its center. Terminator: Dark Fate features an older Sarah Connor saving and training a new generation of heroes to fight the future. Which sounds great until one realizes Sarah has the most significant character arc in the flick, often to the detriment of the people we’re supposed to want to see more of in future installments. Hollywood, while wanting to ensure we come back for the next ride on their franchise merry-go-round, mostly sticks to the past.

Scream bucks that tradition and the trend because it’s not about Sidney. Sure, she needs to be there in a meta sense, but the film acknowledges she’s merely fulfilling a studio quota. By making fun of the convention, which is both a fan demand and a business necessity, Scream executes the idea behind it better than most movies. Sid, Gale, and Dewey are on the story’s periphery. At the same time, we get to know these interesting new characters going through the Woodsboro tradition of running for their lives and answering horror movie trivia. While Scream 4 gave us several new people to love, especially Kirby, that movie doesn’t work without Sid, Dewey, and Gale. Despite a bevy of new kids on the Woodsboro block, Wes Craven’s last film devotes most of its runtime to its tried-and-true Scooby-Doo Gang. Its sequel understands the series must firmly establish a new core cast to rally around, or cash registers won’t make that “ching ching” sound for Scream 6 and beyond. Scream pokes fun at the superstitious nature of the movie business while keeping in mind the franchise itself is a business. Like any institution dependent on consumers, there are demands to meet. Or else. And with genre fans, what follows “or else” can be more than a bit scary.

Fans can be, well, a lot. You know this. You exist in 2022, and you’re on the internet, where toxic fandom runs rampant. Scream knows this, too, since Ghostface’s motivation is to save the Stab franchise. Fans weren’t happy with Stab’s eighth installment for reasons too good to divulge in this corner of the world. Ghostface believes the only way to set things right is to recreate the true-life story on which the first Stab is based. According to Mr. or Mrs. Ghostface, this will bring purity back to the series while inspiring a creatively bankrupt Hollywood to do something new by copying the past. As I said, the irony is so delicious you might come back for a second plate. But that’s also the point. Scream weaponizes the scummy and villainous corners of the web by giving them a knife and Roger Jackson’s dulcet tones. What it doesn’t do is lend credence to their belief that fan service is the one thing to rule us all.

One might argue—and I am—that Scream mourns the fact modern moviemaking is too tethered to the past. We can go back and forth all day on whether studios or fans deserve most of the credit for that development, but Scream lays the blame at our feet. We’re the ones who drink from the keg of nostalgia every chance we get. We’re the ones who jump for joy when we recognize an Easter egg rather than caring if it has any bearing on the overall narrative. We’re the ones who launch our social media battle stations with cries of “not my [fill in the blank]” when someone does something new with a storied property. And, most hilariously, we’re the ones who don’t believe fandom can ever be toxic since it comes from a place of love. That last one is a doozy considering that the same line of thinking is the cornerstone of unhealthy relationships around the globe.

But let’s get back to why we’re here.

Scream doesn’t say all fans are awful, nor does it believe we can’t love this franchise or any other. Instead, it takes umbrage with the unhealthy relationship some have with the things of which they’re passionate. Loving a movie enough where you can repeat it line for line is fantastic. Citing that love as a reason to ostracize new fans or disrespect casts and filmmakers is considerably less fantastic. Scream doesn’t mind fans clutching their pearls when their favorite franchise goes in a direction they don’t like. It just prefers if said pearls aren’t thrown at anyone as a result. Radio Silence’s movie makes a daring move telling fans, some of which are its own, that they need to check themselves while never being preachy. A more daring move is showing how ridiculous some fan impulses are. But it’s not Scream if it’s not making fun of something, right?

Scream, like The Matrix Resurrections and the beloved Gremlins 2: The New Batch, deconstructs the franchise in hopes of examining aspects its fans love. Specifically, everything fans and business types who sit around huge desks require. Mindy Meeks-Martin’s monologue about “requels” reads like a list of demands from a hostage negotiation: Legacy characters present and accounted for, familiar but different enough plot beats, interesting new characters with vague or direct connections to the past, recognizable locales, and most importantly, nostalgic warmth. Mindy’s info dump highlights how challenging it is for older franchises to move forward. If it’s not the corporate overlords who hurt you, it’s the fans. Or sometimes both. That might be scarier than anything in this or any other horror movie. The latest flick in the 25-year-old franchise is for the fans while also a middle finger to the “for the fans” mentality inherent to toxic fandom.

Scream knows the calls are coming from inside the house and decides to have a little fun at the caller’s expense. Even if the person on the other end has no idea the joke is on them.

The post How ‘Scream’ Boldly Gives a Middle Finger to Toxic Fandom [Spoilers] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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Got any friends who might like this scary horror stuff? GO AHEAD AND SHARE, SHARE!

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