Most recently I was discussing the “Scream” movie series with someone online, and while discussing Tatum Riley, they made the statement that she literally contributes nothing to “Scream.” I completely disagreed. Not only is Tatum Riley a major contributor to the fate (and genesis) of Sydney Prescott, but she’s easily the most important character of the first “Scream,” barnone.
There have been so many characters that have died in the “Scream” movie series since its debut in 1996. Even before the movie begins, there’s a long line of people that have died under mysterious circumstances that eventually circles around to Sydney Prescott. She’s a young girl unfortunately thrust in to the middle of a horrible town scandal in Woodsboro, which involved her mother, a torrid affair, and a death that was exploited by everyone. When we meet Sydney in “Scream” she’s still a tabloid grabber.
She’s someone who is hawked by the press because, sadly, they bear a connection to her mom’s murder. Sadly, despite having a father who means well, Sydney is completely on her own, save for her friend Tatum Riley. Tatum happens to be the little sister of local officer Dewey Riley, and spends an immense amount of time with Sydney. It’s pretty clear that Sydney is being hunted by and stalked by Ghostface, but it’s especially tough to grab on to her with Tatum Riley hovering around Sydney.
To say that Tatum contributes nothing is downright false from the get go, because she is literally the character that the entire climax hinges on. Much of the times that Stu and Billy intended to prey on Sydney after the first attack by them, Tatum does literally nothing but stand by Syd, move her back and forth, and even brushes off anyone that intends on doing her any kind of harm. Say what you want about the character (and her ill conceived escape from Stu’s garage), but she’s a loyal friend until the end.
Killing Tatum was what Stu and Billy needed first and foremost before they could ultimately trigger the attempted murder of Sydney. Not only did they want her to commit to the common mistakes that final girls endure in the horror movie, but they needed to find a way to get her alone and gaslight her as much as possible. In order to do that, they needed to separate her from Sydney and take her down in a spot that Sydney wouldn’t really notice, when all was said and done.
How could she take notice when the party was raging, and Stu and Billy were working hard on pushing her in various directions, while she ultimately fell prey to Billy’s wiles? With Tatum murdered, this gave Billy and Stu the perfect chance to snag Sydney (and give Stu a great reason to claim innocence if the plot was a success), engage in pre-marital sex (as per the horror movie rules), and put in to motion the final plan involving the crime scene set up and the ultimate stand off.
A lot of fans find it troublesome that Tatum is never really mourned or discussed after the first movie (not even Dewey really brings her up very much, oddly). But to say that Tatum is just a mere side character (and cannon fodder) is an absolute fallacy. Tatum was so much wiser, cleverer, and street smart than Sydney which is why she was almost always kept safe and away from exploitation. She also probably stalled Stu and Billy’s plan a good month or two, since she clung to Sydney even harder after the murder of Casey Becker. Tatum was the most crucial cog in Billy and Stu’s take down of Sydney, thus the most important character in the first film.
However, on the bright side, the death of her best friend did trigger huge evolution in Neve Campbell’s heroine. It allowed Sydney to learn and master self reliance and the ability to depend on herself, which ultimately helped in combating future Ghostface killers. Hell, not even Gale Weathers rose to the occasion to become her confidant and trusted companion. It’s a damn shame Tatum doesn’t get enough credit, even four films in to the movie series.
She’s that friend everyone needs.