Just saying the title “Scream VI” should make one pause. The series has officially reached, if not surpassed, the same number of sequels as the horror franchises it was tailored to mock. The absence of Neve Campbell as the stalwart protagonist Sydney Prescott in this particular follow-up is deeply felt. Had last year’s Scream (2022) had the gumption to kill off its original heroes, we wouldn’t be dealt another installment in a franchise that is so deeply missing the wit and veteran guidance of the late Wes Craven.
Scream VI transports us from Woodsboro to New York, a welcomed change of scenery as “Ghostface Takes Manhattan.” It’s been a few years since the events of the previous film, which was a “requel” — a film predicated on the subject matter of an earlier film/series, but not a remake of the original nor a direct sequel — and the survivors of Ghostface’s last attack are now in college. In one of the more interesting turn of events, Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) is faced with scrutiny and skepticism by folks who believe she orchestrated the most-recent massacre. Sam processes her complicated emotions in therapy while trying to set her sister, Tara (Jenna Ortega), on a good path for success. Their friends, Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding), also provide moral support.
Of course, another Ghostface emerges and starts hacking any and everyone to pieces, starting the cycle all over again. Where could Scream VI go? The franchise has already spoofed direct sequels, trilogies, reboots, and legacyquels. Well, returning directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (two-thirds of the filmmaking trio Radio Silence) opt to make the sixth installment a critique of franchises. This was the direction more-or-less taken by the fourth and fifth films, respectively, and leads us to the crushing realization that the Scream franchise might have nothing new to say nor spoof.
Courteney Cox reprises her role as the salacious reporter Gale Weathers, and after six movies, she does finally receive a call from Ghostface (a scene mostly sullied by the trailers). Hayden Panettiere returns as Kirby, a survivor of the 2011 murders who is now working as an FBI agent. Scream VI‘s most memorable players are in the opening sequence. Samara Weaving (Ready or Not) and Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel) turn up for a longer-than-usual beginning that packs more compelling twists and subversions than the film itself.
While the film does do justice to Sam and Tara, expanding their complex sisterly relationship and adequately developing them for the obligatory future installments, it manages to murder almost everyone on their periphery before we can even think to care about them. Sam and Tara’s friends are hacked so swiftly, we barely get to know their names. The lone standout is Jasmin Savoy Brown, who has the honor of reciting a lengthy monologue about the rules by which this particular Ghostface will likely abide. Savoy Brown is afforded enough dialog to leave her mark as a winsome new voice. The others, not remotely as fortunate.
Most impressive is the film’s dynamic use of the New York City setting. There’s a sequence on a subway that frighteningly mimics the horror stories you read about the actual railway in the Big Apple — how seemingly routine train-rides can turn combative and violent in just a matter of bing bongs. Another scene plays with the peril of heights, resulting in Sam and company having to crawl across a long ladder from one brownstone to another before Ghostface discovers what they’re trying to do. The end result is downright sinister. The directors play with some neat camera angles during a Ghostface confrontation in a bodega as well. All that’s missing from the NY ambiance is incessant horn-honking and a handful of Yankees baseball caps.
These elements make Scream VI serviceable, but hardly subversive and memorable, which is why this series caught fire in the first place. The writers, James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, have all-but-established the fact that they have nothing dynamic to add to this series other than bloodier kills and more relentlessly violent Ghostfaces. Craven’s films — even the misguided and still-divisive third installment — might’ve went tamer on the violence, but the commentary on the horror landscape of the time proved juicy enough that you likely didn’t notice. With the two recent Scream sequels, you’re left recalling the kills, which simply isn’t enough for a series that once had so much teeth.
NOTE: Scream VI is now playing exclusively in theaters.
NOTE II: Scream VI has one of the best pieces of guerilla marketing in sometime, as there’s a website that allows you to input a name and phone-number so that Ghostface can give you a ring and a personalized message. I had way too much fun confusing and scaring my friends today. Debatably more fun than I had watching the film itself.
Starring: Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Jack Champion, Courteney Cox, Dermot Mulroney, Henry Czerny, Mason Gooding, Hayden Panettiere, Samara Weaving, and Tony Revolori. Directed by: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!