Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for Scream VI.She geeks out about the horror genre and rocks a leather jacket with confidence. Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) was everything we needed in a horror film and more. When Scream 4 was released in 2011, we expected the classic horror character tropes the franchise had maintained in its previous films, especially since its iconic meta-commentary demands stereotypes to be included. Adhering to the tropes has always worked for the franchise, resulting in an extensive cult following with fans who are suckers for the sarcastic remarks and dramatic irony. So, when the franchise curveballed viewers with Kirby Reed, an amalgamation of the nerd and cool girl tropes, she promptly became a fan favorite. It was the touch of realism in her characterization that paved the way for more multidimensional characters in the following Scream installments. We weren’t rooting for character by default anymore (because they aligned with our favorite trope or was just long-standing character in the franchise), and instead, it was because they were relatable and garnered empathy from the audience.
Kirby Reed Is a Multidimensional Character
Tropes are a hallmark of a good slasher flick and essential to Scream’s overt meta-commentary. From our favorite final girl, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), to the eccentric nerd proficient in horror knowledge, Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy), character stereotypes have been the bread and butter of the Scream franchise. This is particularly true for the side characters that are always certainly killed off like Tatum Riley (Rose McGowan), the designated “blonde bimbo.” So it is refreshing to see a character, specifically a side character, in the horror genre that isn’t pigeonholed into a certain group and instead is actually multidimensional, like most humans are. Horror films insist on tropes, especially in a high school setting. Kirby’s self-confidence mixed with her grip over the horror genre not only makes her relatable in the sense that she’s multi-faceted, but she is also what every horror fan aspires to be.
We are introduced to Kirby in Scream 4, racing down a suburban street, flippantly apologizing to an officer for speeding, clad in an edgy outfit and short hair; and we instantly dismiss her as the typical 2000s cool girl. The first indication of her horror nerd side is when she declares that Sidney is the reason why she loves horror movies. From watching Shaun of the Dead to knowing the idiosyncrasies of the “Stab” films, her character slowly unravels until we reach the classic trivia scene between her and Charlie Walker (Rory Culkin) at the “Stab-a-thon” after-party. Now, she isn’t just the cool girl with a tough persona, she’s also a geek engrossed by horror films. It was a slow build-up, but it was one that made us cheer for her as she grimly answered question after question on her second call with Ghostface. Panettiere’s electrifying performance helped deepen the character herself; no one could forget that iconic scene of Kirby interrupting the killer and rattling away horror titles. She thinks she’s passed Ghostface’s test and runs out to untie Charlie, who then reveals himself as the other Ghostface and stabs her, leaving her to bleed out.
Kirby Is Brought Back for ‘Scream VI’ Because of Her Fan Favorite Status
Kirby’s status as a fan favorite resulted in the franchise bringing her back from the “dead.” The fifth film, Scream (2022), verified her survival in an Easter Egg when Richie Kirsch (Jack Quaid) searches for content relating to “Stab 8” and “Interview with Woodsboro Survivor Kirby Reed” appears in the suggested sidebar. Scream VI brings her fully back as an FBI agent eager to help put the new slew of murders to bed. Throughout Scream VI, we become skeptical of her position as an FBI agent due to clues dropped by Detective Wayne Bailey (Dermot Mulroney) about her allegedly flawed paperwork. Her personality doesn’t help her case either, we are accustomed to witnessing two-dimensional characters being props for extravagant murder scenes, so we are instantly wary of a returning side character that now has a backstory. Subsequently, when the killers are revealed, we feel guilty for suspecting her, as we recall why she was such a beloved character in the first place. But to be fair, the film does a great job at making you think she could be in on it.
Kirby Is the Predecessor for New, Complex ‘Scream’ Characters
With the release of Scream in 2022, it is clear that the franchise understood the power behind introducing more characters that didn’t stick to one trope. The favorable response to Kirby’s character made way for characters like Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) who embodies the horror fanatic tropes. Now, it has to be said that both these characters are spin-offs of the original film nerd, Randy, from the first two films. But it is still insanely cool to see this trope reimagined for women, especially with Mindy, as a queer woman of color – and both are complex, multidimensional characters. It’s also a nice little nod to Randy, another fan favorite who was taken too soon, who is Mindy’s uncle.
Blending multiple tropes allows for more exciting subplots and character dynamics whilst still upholding the film’s tradition of meta-comedy. This mixture also provides more room for character development which was previously limited to the main characters of the franchise: Sidney Prescott, Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), and Dewey Riley (David Arquette). Kirby herself has the most notable character arc from her position as the nerdy cool girl when she was first introduced to a special agent of the FBI that fills the role as a protector and almost mentor of Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) in Scream VI. Her character harnesses the pain and trauma of her experience in Woodsboro and channels them into creating heart-warming connections with the two sisters and facing down Ghostface again, no longer being afraid.
Why Kirby’s Character Makes Sense
At first, it seems that Kirby’s blended character completely subverts Scream’s meta-commentary on archetypes and the horror genre in general. But since Kirby’s character was a blend of two prominent tropes instead of a departure from them, the film was still able to engage with them meta-fictionally. Although traditionally the character who has a proclivity for the horror genre is generally killed, as seen with Randy and Robbie Mercer (Erik Knudsen), both Kirby and Mindy manage to escape death. It is heartwarming to see them bond over horror trivia in Scream VI, almost as if Kirby was symbolically handing over the torch to Mindy as a nerd and final girl. Both Kirby and Mindy’s duality in characterization helps them survive the franchise. Undermining the tropes allows the Scream franchise to prove slasher flicks don’t necessarily need them. They can still focus on creative and gory deaths, elusive killers, and outrageous plot twists whilst creating complex characters that we actually care about. Even Quinn Bailey’s (Liana Liberato) revival expands her character from the resident bimbo into someone who is calculating and vengeful. Introducing Kirby was the best move for the franchise, inspiring them to make subversion a key device to enhancing their meta approach.
As a horror fan and an unabashed cool girl, there was no doubt that Kirby would reach the height of popularity that she did in Scream 4. Mixing two horror must-have archetypes gave the franchise a multidimensional character and inspired more to follow suit, transforming the films from killer-focussed to survivor-focussed and eliciting more resonance from viewers. As such, Scream 4 set up the following films for more subversive meta-analysis, breaking it away from the danger of becoming repetitive and redundant.