The slasher franchise’s sixth instalment unleashes Ghostface upon a new city, but happily keeps stabbing its way through familiar territory.
March 09, 2023
Going into Scream VI, viewers know who the killer definitely isn't: the horror franchise's OG final girl Sidney Prescott. Neve Campbell's (The Lincoln Lawyer) character has been a pivotal part of every Ghostface-stalked flick from 1996's initial Scream through to 2022's fifth entry Scream, but famously isn't in the stab-happy saga's latest chapter due to a pay dispute. That's one big change for returning filmmakers Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett to grapple with in their second slice of the blood-splattering, scary movie-loving action. À la Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan — which gets an early nod, naturally — they also move said action to New York. But even if you take Ghostface and the murderer's targets out of Woodsboro, and shake up who the masked maniac swings a knife at, Scream is going to Scream in a screamingly familiar fashion. It has before in Ohio in Scream 2 and Hollywood in Scream 3, and the series knows it.
New movie, new city, same setup, same gravelly Roger L Jackson voice, same 'Red Right Hand' needle drop, same overall formula: throw in the same winking, nodding, self-referential attitude, plus the same penchant for mentioning horror movies, their tropes and cliches, and general film theory, and that's Scream VI's easy cut. Once again, someone dons Ghostface's ghost face, of course, and uses whichever blade happens to be in the vicinity (and a shotgun) to terrorise teens and long-victimised targets. Murder Mystery's James Vanderbilt and Ready or Not's Guy Busick haven't taxed themselves with the screenplay — their second Scream effort, after the previous flick — but the franchise's pattern keeps making a comeback for a reason. While intrepid reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox, Shining Vale) notes the world's current "true-crime limited series" obsession, whodunnits and murder-mysteries date back further, and that's where every Scream instalment has also carved a niche since the late, great Wes Craven and Dawson's Creek creator Kevin Williamson started things off.
With Sidney happily explained away, Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera, In the Heights) is Ghostface's present obsession. She was last time, too, which didn't end well for some of her friends and acquaintances. A year later, she's in the Big Apple because that's where younger sister Tara (Jenna Ortega, Wednesday) goes to college, and Sam isn't keen to let her out of her sight. Horror movie fanatic Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown, Yellowjackets) and her twin Chad (Mason Gooding, Love, Victor) are also new-ish ex-Woodsboro kids on campus. And, when bodies start piling up, starting with the saga's obligatory and engagingly effective cold open — with Samara Weaving (Babylon) reuniting with her Ready or Not directors to follow in Drew Barrymore (Santa Clarita Diet), Jada Pinkett Smith (The Matrix Resurrections) and the like's footsteps — Scream VI's core four have another date with a psychopath.
Sam, Tara, Mindy and Chad also have fresh-faced NYC company, adding to the suspect pool. Sam and Tara are bunking with sex-positive roommate Quinn Bailey (Liana Liberato, A Million Little Things), who has a police detective (Dermot Mulroney, Umma) for an overprotective father. Chad does the same with the studious Ethan Landry (Jack Champion, Avatar: The Way of Water), while Mindy is dating Anika Kayoko (Devyn Nekoda, Sneakerella). Plus, Sam is enjoying a secret fling with neighbour Danny Brackett (Josh Segarra, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law). Because they're all well and truly in a franchise — when Mindy gives her obligatory lecture about what movie conventions dictate should happen next, she expands beyond just horror films to ever-sprawling sagas — Gale hightails it to campus when murders start occurring, and Scream 4's Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere, Nashville) also finds reason to drop by.
Sadly, when Mindy does get a-babbling about "the rules", she mentions a word that no one who saw 2022's Scream should ever want to hear again: requel. At least that term for do-overs that stick with an established timeline, bring back legacy characters, but pump in new blood to also give the original a remake doesn't then get splashed around as frenetically as Ghostface splashes gore in this followup. Scream VI doesn't get to insufferable levels of geeking out, either — that its predecessor did even for the most adoring horror-movie fans, aka the series' main audience, was an unwanted feat but a feat nonetheless — instead satirising itself by literally asking "who gives a fuck about movies?". Still, Mindy's whole speech, surveying her pals, assessing who is likely to kill or be killed, and waxing irreverent about scary film and franchise lore, shows how beholden Scream VI is to the saga's standard formula. Accordingly, don't believe Mindy when she says this isn't a requel sequel: it is. Also don't believe her when she states that old rules no longer apply: they patently do.
Don't believe Mindy when she starts talking about subverting expectations as well, claiming that franchises will only keep on keeping on if they do just that. The horror genre gushes with ongoing series — some namechecked in Scream VI — that've proven the exact opposite because viewers showed up anyway, and little in this Scream entry upends the saga's basics. In fact, the big reveal is dispiritingly by-the-numbers, lacking the smart and savage commentary that helped improve the last Scream's choice of culprit in the process. Noting the wearing nature of living with trauma is a meaningful touch, but never deeply explored. The shoutout to franchise fatigue is also far more superficial than any Ghostface-caused gash. Plus, though focusing on Sam's inner turmoil has the potential to get the inevitable seventh flick to truly try something different, the callback that comes with the storyline is already clunky and played out.
Scream VI is still fun enough as a slasher-comedy-slash-whodunnit; staging that slashing, plus the suspense and sleuthing around it, remains Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett's best Scream-relevant skill. That was never in doubt after Ready or Not, and their aforementioned cold open here is entertaining, playful and expertly executed. The New York setting sparks stabbings in alleyways, subways and bodegas, all impressively and tensely shot — although Montreal makes a particularly unconvincing Big Apple. And if you're going to stick with business as usual no matter what the sassy dialogue promises, Barrera, Savoy Brown, stalwart Cox, eagerly anticipated returnee Panettiere, and especially growing scream queen (see also: X and Studio 666) Ortega and always-welcome The Other Two star Segarra, are killer company.
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