Scream VI is the latest attempt to drain the last few drops of bloody inspiration from a dying franchise that, while forgettably enjoyable, is kept alive by a scattering of honourable references and guest appearances.
Starring: Melissa Barrera, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Jenna Ortega, Jack Champion, Liana Liberato, Mason Gooding, Devyn Nekoda, Dermot Mulroney, Hayden Panettiere, Courteney Cox
I’m a nerd for horror, and the Scream franchise is no exception. The original film balanced shock and terror against its sharp, comedic script and borderline campiness, featuring comically flailing Ghostface costumes, crash-zoom daylight stalker shots, and the many iconic moments and performances that spawned derivative copycats for years to come.
The sequels perfected this formula of meta-commentary and in-universe callbacks, but unfortunately kept everything tied into a neatly uninspired bundle of illegitimate daughters and nieces, where even a small town feels smaller, and New York City amplifies this tired formula to new levels of Scooby Doo predictability.
Scream VI is the sequel to the rebooted Scream (2022), which made a considerable effort to be about as good as any fifth-film-in-a-franchise can get. It follows the survivors of the last film as they move to New York City in an attempt to forget about all those murders again, but still almost exclusively hang out together and have only really transplanted their situation from one part of the country to another.
Samantha (Melissa Barrera) is still experiencing daily trauma and questioning if she might genetically enjoy murder, while her sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) is desperate to bury the memory of her hometown by embracing self-destructive rebellion in their new environment. The twins, Chad and Mindy (Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown), are still remaining nearby and protective of Tara and Samantha respectively, providing comic relief and emotional comfort whenever there’s a lull in the conversation.
When Samantha is implicated in the murder of two copycat-killer film students and questioned by Detective Bailey (Dermot Mulroney), old wounds are soon reopened as the Core Four and their supporting-character crew (Devyn Nekoda, Liana Liberato, Jack Champion) are targeted by a new Ghostface killer just days before Hallowe’en, which also draws out appearances from serial reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Ghostface-survivor-turned-FBI-agent Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere).
Scream VI isn’t quite Ghostface Takes Manhattan so much as its Girls: Hallowe’en Special, which may partly have to do with the absence of series lynchpin, Sidney Prescott, but also plays to the strengths of its directors, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, whose previous work before Scream was the grimly hilarious Ready or Not (referenced by Samara Weaving and Henry Czerny both providing memorable cameos).
There’s a heavier imbalance toward the characters here, propped up by in-universe references and refreshed updates to the continuing lore, but one that never really develops into something we haven’t seen before and, despite energetic performances by most of the cast, just feels tired and flat as a result.
It’s watchable, and its 123 minutes just breeze by in a flurry of snappy lines, close-ups of Ortega’s darkly circled eyes, the trademark telephone voice of Roger L. Jackson and the occasional brutal slasher scene, but it also felt immediately forgettable besides the appearances of Cox and Panettiere, the awkward mention of Sidney and Dewey from previous films, and its goofy-beyond-redemption finale.
Perhaps this is the problem with franchises in general, where the desire to do something fresh and new is hindered by the anchored reliance on legacy and meta-commentary, and characters are trapped in the undeveloped tropes and limitations of previous films, simply recycling and retreading instead of reinventing.
There are occasional, darker hints of where this film could have gone, but they’re just that; bloodstains and breadcrumb trails to a more memorable and rounded film that never existed, or was simply chopped to pieces and left on the editing room floor.
What’s your favourite scary movie? Probably not this one.