As Halloween is just around the corner, I think a discerning Cognitive look at the cult classic horror movie, “Scream” is exactly what this meta movie needs. Before we continue, I feel I should disclaim, firstly, spoilers for the movie “Scream” if you haven’t already seen it(It’s older than you, how have you not seen it?), and second I will not be posting any gory or disturbing imagery from the movie, so even if you’re squeamish, this is still just a movie review. As a Cognitive movie review, I will be going over how the director uses the audiences attention, perception, memory, critical thinking, creativity, and the use of language to make an already enjoyable film, even more interesting to dissect after the fact.
Scene 1: Slasher, Suspense…Sarcasm?
As the movie begins, we’re met with a scene of a girl in her late teens making popcorn in her house at night, seemingly home alone. She receives a few phone calls while going about her evening, the caller asking her questions about her, her night, and about scary movies. The voice on the end of the line sounds deep and gruff, but with a tone that implies interest and mildly flirtatious curiosity in the girl. She briefly entertains him before being spooked out by the call, and hanging up. The caller, well, calls once again, this time threatening and angry in tone, after a number of threats, he asks the girl to turn on the lights outside her house, only his inflection is momentarily overtly sarcastic. In a bizarre turn of events, he quizzes her on scary movie trivia to save the life of her boyfriend outside. He gives her an easy question to start with, but then gives her a trick question when her boyfriend’s life is actually on the line.(Fun Fact: Steve is in this movie for 24 seconds.)
At the complete end of the scene he kills her after chasing her through the whole house, but in an almost slap dash, wanton fashion, where she almost gets away, and even wounds him a few times. Now, this scene is important for a variety of reasons, as a masked killer, he has to have an identity, and for the rest of the movie, you’ll be pondering this with a bevy of other characters. A few other factors at play are: his interest in horror movies, the fact that he is athletic(at least enough to chase the girl, and apparently tie up a football player), eagle eyed viewers will catch that he is about a head taller than the victim, has a slight temper, and has at least a script or at least practiced for this, and has a knack for being theatrical. The devils in the details right?
Scene 2: Principal, Perpetrator…Piscine?
In a scene that’s one part tense, two part’s hilarious, two students are brought into the principals office for running around the school, in masks that the killer was also wearing. The principal brings out a pair of enormous, sharp scissors and cuts up the masks, and expels the students. After exclaiming that expulsion isn’t fair punishment, the principal brandishes the scissors at both students, claiming that “ripping out their intestine’s and… exposing their heartless insides” would be more fair.
Our following scene with the principal he is wearing a separate Ghostface mask, looking at himself in the mirror. A knock is heard on his outer door, he quickly removes the mask, with a noticeably serious, almost menacingly determined look on his face and investigates. No one is at the door when he opens it, interestingly though, the Principal seems to jump every time he notices his reflection in the mirror. A second knock occurs, only when he returns for the second, the killer is hiding behind his door, and, you guessed it, kills him.
This scene is brilliant for a multitude of reasons. The principal appears to be jumpy at his own reflection and any unexpected visitors, this could imply guilt, or a fear of being caught, or perhaps both. He puts on the mask while no one is around, getting into his costume to mentally prepare for his “role”? He openly threatens two students with disembowelment with a sharp object for running around in killer costumes! He also loses his temper at them when they decide to have an attitude with him. Is his pride in his work and clever facade getting the better of him? Does he believe he is the only one capable of being the Ghostface killer?
These characteristics are suddenly mounting up against our dear principal. However, he dies the moment after you start suspecting him. Why after all this set up, is he immediately, and suddenly exeunted? It’s my belief that the director knew, or at least wanted you to be making a conscious or sub-conscious list in your mind, about the killers character. Medium Height, Medium Build, Capable but not infallible, angry but only at specific times, smart but not genius. After all these tally marks match up in your brain, he gets the axe instantly, but with it, so too does your mental list. You’re no longer looking for this list of traits in your mind anymore, because your list just died, and it died to the actual killer who is now even more enigmatic than he was before, because now your brain has forgotten what it’s looking for.