Full disclosure…..I reviewed the last Scream film for HNN in 2022 and it was not exactly a glowing assessment. But upon subsequent viewings (the movie was also available on Paramount+, after all), I came to the conclusion that my initial evaluation was just a bit harsh and that Scream 5 was not that bad. Would I arrive at that same realization after my first screening of Scream VI (“6”, for the non-Romans)? I surely hope so.
Just twelve months after the brutal murders in Woodsboro, and the sudden reemergence of Ghostface, sisters Tara (Jenna Ortega) and Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) are now living in the Big Apple (Tara for college, Sam for…..constant monitoring of Tara I guess?) and have brought along their blood-fest compatriots and twin siblings Chad and Mindy Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown, also reprising their roles.) As a Yankees fan I do have concerns with these characters dubbing themselves the “Core Four”, but I won’t hold that against them for now. New locale, same bloody story…..Ghostface enters the stage, once again, and begins making a mess of Manhattan. I’ll spare everyone of the “Ghostface Takes Manhattan” jokes, and move on…..
The opening scene, always a staple of Scream movies for tone-setting, does go into unfamiliar territory with several twists that would please both M. Night and Tom Savini. In fact, there are several creative directions and choices made in Scream VI that are to be commended. The dark tone is fitting, and the kills somehow found a way to out-cringe the previous installment. Writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick found a way to replace the conspicuous-by-her-absence Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) with a “legacy character” from a previous installment. While they had to shoe-horn in Kirby’s (Hayden Panettiere) new career, it was a welcomed return for a cast where the only other OG returnee was the consistently inconsistent Gale Weathers, who somehow wrote yet another expose-all book and had it published and on sale everywhere in that short span of 1 year. But I digress…..
This would lead me to my first criticism……the “new characters.” While all are just a retread of the sequel/requel tropes (the love interest, the promiscuous one, the quiet kid, etc.), introducing these folks (and actually calling them by these trope names!) yet again exposes the audience to the dangerous idea of being entirely TOO self-referential. This was an issue I also had with last year’s Scream. There is a tipping point between smart and repetitive for being so self-aware that it’s no longer taken in the humorous manner in which it was written. In Scream VI, we are not only treated to a carbon copy of the “rules for a horror sequel” speech from Scream 2, but the writers also threw in the “why I did it” 5-minute monologue from the original film. Again, repeating the joke in jest multiple times doesn’t make it new or give the audience the feeling that we’re all in on it together. It gets old pretty quickly.
The idea to move the action to NYC was an interesting one, and a really good one in theory. For many scenes, especially the kills, it made the action feel much more intimate and claustrophobic thanks to the tight living quarters than the expansive houses and streets of Woodsboro. And directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are to deserve applause for several creative uses of this locale, particularly a high-rise escape between apartment buildings and a masterfully drawn-out scene in the NYC subway that anyone living in the tri-state area can relate to. But beyond these examples, the city was not used enough to be considered an effective backdrop and most of the action could’ve taken place anywhere. For instance, I’d be hard-pressed to find an NYPD precinct building consisting of two stories and located at a tree-line four-way intersection.
Ortega and Barrera are once again great in their roles, and have cemented their positions within the franchise. The numerous call-backs to not only the previous film but the entire Scream universe as a whole are effective, and do have the audience wondering who else can be brought back. But that also presents a fundamental issue with the story and the direction, as this is a first for me when viewing Scream films….I was able to determine who the killer or killers is/were with an hour left to go, and spent the rest of the movie looking for clues to confirm my suspicion. It is understandable that not every ending can be fresh, but the audience needs to be kept on their toes until the big reveal. Unfortunately I just don’t see how that was accomplished here. There are numerous teases throughout that good can become evil fairly quickly, so that might be considered a preview for future installments. Let’s put a pin in that for now.
Scream VI, overall, is a fun and engaging film in parts, with plenty of intensity and gore to make both Scream franchise fans and horror buffs delighted. However, does this make for an all-encompassing brilliant movie that hits all the marks? For me, not quite…..but it is a pretty fun (if uneven) ride along the way.